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


In her consulting work with organisations, teams expert Eunice Parisi-Carew finds that organisations 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 behaviour 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 book, Collaboration Begins with You, 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 organisations, here are seven suggestions—drawn from the book—for promoting healthy debate in your organisation.

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 behaviours. 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 modelling desired behaviours but also providing the environment, structure, strategies, and practices that support collaboration.”

About the author:

David Witt

David Witt is a Consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies.
First published on Blanchard LeaderChat
8 October 2015