Don’t Confuse Collaboration with Being Nice: 7 Ways to Promote Healthy Team Debate

Behave Reminder For Young Person, Top ViewIn her consulting work with organizations, teams expert Eunice Parisi-Carew finds that organizations sometimes confuse collaboration with simply getting along or being polite. That’s a common mistake—and one of the most difficult to address.

“Collaboration is often hardest within polite groups of people because they don’t tend to express differences openly,” explains Parisi-Carew. “True collaboration is built on the appreciation of diverse opinions. In many departments or project groups, the standard behavior is to shy away from conflict or debate. People are afraid to speak their truth.”

Parisi-Carew, a coauthor with Ken Blanchard and Jane Ripley of the new book, Collaboration Begins with You, (on sale October 12) explains that one key to creating a collaborative environment is a department or project leader who models what constructive disagreement looks like. For leaders interested in taking some first steps toward improving collaboration in their organizations, here are seven suggestions—drawn from the book—for promoting healthy debate in your organization.

Seven Ways to Encourage Healthy Debate

  1. Promote the idea that disagreement is constructive.
  2. Encourage respectful debate around issues; support differing viewpoints.
  3. Take a facilitator role if difficulties arise; seek to understand concerns behind each stated position.
  4. Get training and train others in giving/receiving feedback and in conflict resolution.
  5. Ask questions and praise candid answers.
  6. See feedback as a gift, without judgment or defensiveness. Give constructive feedback and be open to feedback from others.
  7. Show your colleagues what values look like as behaviors. Speak up in meetings. Encourage others to speak freely without fear of judgment. Welcome all ideas and consider them before decisions are made.

“As a leader, you have a large sphere of influence,” says Parisi-Carew. “That means not only modeling desired behaviors but also providing the environment, structure, strategies, and practices that support collaboration.”

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