He started the meeting with his customary, “Hello, everybody,” and followed with “So, Steve Shure is sending out e-mails about [personal sexual] lubricants.” … “I want you to shut down the channel,” he said. “We can build a $100 billion company without sending out a single f—— e-mail.” … An animated argument followed. Amazon’s culture is notoriously confrontational, and it begins with Bezos, who believes that truth shakes out when ideas and perspectives are banged against each other. … Eventually, they compromised. E-mail marketing would be terminated for certain categories such as health and personal care. The Secrets of Bezos, Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct 14, 2013.
One engineer was animatedly against a decision we took but as soon as he heard his boss had suggested it, then he quickly said “Ok, never mind we’ll do it.”
A senior VP, when told that we had been successful and delivered a huge project only a week late where typically we were 3-4 months late, yelled back “it was still late” and no one ever mentioned our successful project again.
She came to me recommended as an excellent contractor. The only problem was that in our discussions of what she would do, she would simply repeat back whatever I asked her to do. She never asked additional questions nor argued about alternative approaches. I found that her implementations of my requests always seemed off, never were quite what I expected even when I tried more detailed explanations.
The e-mail discussion would go on for a while with back and forth arguments on the merits of what we were proposing. Inevitably someone would step in and try to “stop” the argument because it was a public argument and hence to their thinking inappropriate. The other thing was the inevitable insistence that it move to a face to face meeting.
For more see Meeting Madness, Don’t Do It!
I was the new project manager. I had simply talked with everyone on the team and had found some disconnects, some things that needed to be fixed. I let my new boss know of my findings. She was livid and immediately told me that those were my problems, as if I had caused them, and that I had to personally solve them by doing overlooked tasks myself. When I argued with her on the solution that we just needed to get people to do the tasks we expected them to do, she all but told me to expect to be terminated and she left the meeting.
I overheard an analyst tell another to stop arguing with me. It wasn’t the right thing to do — to argue with the boss. I told him later that I wanted people to argue with me. To me this was one of the best ways to fully get ideas out and ensure everyone understood what we were doing and why.
Discussion and debate are some of the key tools for getting to a common understanding and for ferreting out and refining innovative ideas. In some organizations that have started to go downhill, the first thing I notice is that open discussion and debate have disappeared. Meetings, especially with senior staff, are muted and generally optimistic with little or no hard data being exchanged. Once we again opened up discussion, usually by modelling the behavior of debating openly and encouraging others to argue with us, we then saw a pickup in effective ideas and independent innovation.
Are your discussions open and productively argumentative or are they quiet and uneventful groupthink?