Why we encourage – yes, encourage – more drama at work


July 26, 2016


If you want to avoid drama at work, a quick Google search will turn up dozens of tips.

But what if you’re looking for more drama, instead of less?

You’re reading that right: I’m advocating for a work environment with plenty of drama. But by “drama,” I don’t mean temper tantrums and the silent treatment. Rather, I’m talking about a workplace where people have spirited discussions and healthy disagreements, all in the name of making the business run better.

This idea comes from “Death by Meeting,” a best-selling “business fable” in which author Patrick Lencioni arguesthat corporate meetings can be less boring and more productive if they include what he calls “a natural level of conflict.” He uses Hollywood movies to illustrate what he means, pointing out that introducing conflict early in a situation – whether it’s a meeting or a movie – will keep people engaged and focused.

At MyITpros, we put this idea into action, and it’s enabled us to do a much better job of testing ideas and solving problems. In our experience, there are three main things you need to do for this approach to work.

Mine for conflict

“Mining for conflict” is Lencioni’s term for soliciting differences of opinion to get a good, productive discussion going. He also refers to this tactic as “lighting the fuse” and “fanning the flames.” At MyITpros, mining for conflict involves asking questions about whatever topic is on the table, then pushing people to address issues and points of contention that might otherwise remain buried.

This is important because employees often – and understandably – tend to try to be agreeable at work, especially with their bosses. For many workers, it seems counterintuitive to state a different opinion or an opposing idea when the boss brings up an issue. That’s why, as a company leader myself, I feel it’s my duty to encourage people to disagree with me in the interest of getting good things done.

Model it

Another responsibility of leadership is to model what healthy conflict looks like. You can’t always expect people to automatically know how to respectfully disagree, so why not just show them? One technique I use is to bring up a subject and ask the group in a general way, “What do all of you think?” At that point, another member of the leadership team might challenge me, and I’ll respond by thanking that individual for the feedback and asking some questions about it. This sends the message that different views are welcome, and that it’s possible to disagree agreeably.

Asking questions back and forth is a great technique for making sure differences of opinion get expressed in a non-threatening, non-hostile way. For example, if someone says “Maybe if we buy an ad in the paper, we’ll get a hundred new customers” – not a likely outcome in the professional services business – we encourage anyone who disagrees to express how they feel in the form of a question. So instead of saying “One hundred customers from one ad is crazy,” the person who disagrees might instead ask, “Do you have an example of getting that kind of result from running an ad?” This way, people can express opposing views and move the conversation forward without anyone feeling attacked or shut down.

Make it OK

In addition to mining for and modeling healthy conflict, our leaders go the extra mile to be sure people feel safe disagreeing with others. When employees avoid disagreeing, it’s often because they fear negative repercussions for their job or career path. That’s why we’ve worked hard to create an environment where opposition is solicited, and to ensure our employees understand it’s always safe to critique or challenge ideas in a meeting. We constantly tell our people that we want and need their feedback, and we treat that feedback – positive or negative – as a gift to be appreciated. In this environment, when employees speak up, we know it’s because they’re engaged and they care. Meanwhile, they are confident that their contribution to the conversation will be taken in the constructive spirit in which it’s offered.

The bottom line

I’d like to close with one of my favorite examples of how encouraging conflict and drama at work can lead to positive business results. I’m an optimistic sort of person – perhaps sometimes too optimistic – and I often have a sense that we can accomplish more in a given month or quarter than is realistic. I have to admit that as a result, I have a tendency to set goals that are difficult to meet, which can leave people feeling discouraged.

In our new environment of mining for conflict, when I suggest a goal that seems overly ambitious, someone will question whether it can be achieved in the allotted time, forcing me to examine whether I’m being realistic. Consequently, I’ll pull back to a more reasonable goal. The result? Instead of regularly missing targets, we’re reaching them. And instead of being disappointed at the end of the quarter, we’ve got something to celebrate. This important distinction is all because people know they can speak up and challenge me.

I highly recommend cultivating more conflict and drama within your organization, and, as always, I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about this or any other business topic.

Bill McCharen MyITpros

The purpose of this blog is to answer the questions you ask. To learn more about MyITpros and what we do as a managed services provider, check out our services page. Check out more of my posts on business management best practices ! 


photo credit: Amazon

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