When is it Smart to Go Against the Flow?

arrow-against-flow-of-arrows-Mary LippittDoes this sound familiar? You’re with your team in a conference, the leader puts the big idea on the table, no one speaks and then one person agrees. Before you know it you’ve all agreed, only to learn later that many had unexpressed concerns. What went wrong? Blinded by an apparent consensus, many stifle their thinking, concerns and questions despite the fact that even experts overlook key factors.

When time is short, when it seems like a slam dunk or when we assume that agreement will keep us in good graces, we succumb to passive conformity. False agreement with an easy yes shortchanges our future when facing complexity and uncertainty. As a parent, I have agreed too quickly without investigating key details or grasping the entire picture. The same is true at work. Being pre-occupied with other matters, wanting to move on to other matters and feeling unsure about what I could add, transforms inquisitiveness into acquiescence. The result will likely be mediocrity or a blunder.

Group think operates at all levels since we naturally enjoy being surrounded by those who think like we do. However, those who can end our sentences for us also likely share the same blind spots. When the issues are pivotal, precedent setting and strategic, we must dig into the details to ensure that we are not making an error. So learning how to prevent from following into the trap of rapid and wrong agreement is important. When a leader needs to invoke critical thinking, there are six steps to guarantee engagement:

  1. Ask for input before sharing your thoughts
  2. Provide soak time to let the idea and options emerge
  3. Complete a comprehensive analysis of the current context and trends
  4. Create small groups to consider alternative and ramifications
  5. Praise those who identify potential pitfalls
  6. Establish evaluation criteria for weighing alternatives

As a team member you can leverage your contributions by learning how to disagree without being disagreeable to preserve your role as a valued team player:

  1. Lead with a positive aspect of the proposed idea
  2. Offer to examine alternatives and evaluate potential consequences
  3. Recognize that others will see things you do not and that you see things others do not
  4. Identify the best case, worst case and likely outcomes
  5. Confirm: ensure that all six mindsets have been evaluated before a final decision

Fighting the current takes greater effort than going with the flow. Everyone who has ever rowed against the current knows that it takes sustained effort to counter the tide. The benefit of the effort though is substantial. We arrive at our destination, proud of our efforts and recognized for smart decision making.

Originally published on bizcatalyst360



Dr. Mary Lippitt

Dr. Mary Lippitt

Dr. Mary Lippitt, President of Enterprise Management, Ltd, is the award-winning author of Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity and Complexity. Known for her pioneering work linking leadership development to organizational and individual results, Dr. Lippitt has been recognized as a leader in the execution of change, leadership development and strategy implementation for over twenty-five years.

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