I’ve watched with great interest the means by which U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is assembling his inner circle of advisors, and I must admit I’m impressed.
Hillary Clinton, America’s next Secretary of State, fought a bitter, rancorous campaign to gain the Democrats’ endorsement to run for president. And, of course, we all know how that turned out.
However, Obama has talked at length about assembling “a team of adversaries” – an approach to governance that translates well to the business realm. Unfortunately, many company owners, regional managers, HR pros and others with the responsibility for hiring often avoid promoting adversaries from within the ranks, or hiring from the outside those with different (read new) views on management. Pity.
Those who lack confidence in their own ability to lead look for team mates who share the same opinions and points of view to re-enforce their own.
The result? A support team of “yes men and women.” Advisors too cautious to point out the obvious flaws in a plan or tactic. The wise business owner seeks out differing opinions, weighs these views and arrives at his or her own decision. The key is confidence.
A confident leader listens to adversarial points of view from knowledgeable advisors and for good reasons.
A team that has the encouragement and authority to push back is invaluable. These are the men and women who will see trouble around the bend and sound the alarm – without fear of retribution.
A busy CEO or other corporate leader simply doesn’t have the time to examine every stage of every project with adequate intensity. By calling on Hilary Clinton to represent the U.S. in foreign affairs, Obama made a wise choice. Mrs. Clinton knows world leaders, she’s been on the world stage for almost two decades now and she won’t have any qualms about telling it straight to her new boss.
The same applies to any successful enterprise.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen this in companies small and large.
Manager A brings up a point...an ember of a brilliant idea waiting to be fanned to flaming profitability. How? Manager B builds on the original idea. Managers C, D and E – all from different departments – add more fuel to the fire with original thinking and the encouragement of top-tier management – and synergies are born. 1 + 1 = 3.
These synergies lead to increased productivity, improved margins, lower turnover rates and numerous other benefits. The answers lie within your own management team if you support pushback and independent thinking. And ultimately, you and your business will enjoy the benefits of synergies created by the convergence of numerous and different points of view.
It is important that the company owner or team leader maintains order, discipline and indoctrinates new team members. A team of adversaries can lead to synergies, or that same team can lead to back stabbing and office politics. There is no room in an open, creative, secure business environment for hurt feelings, grudges and other counter-productive emotional baggage. As the team leader, train your advisors to push back when appropriate. However, there is only one decision maker.
Competition Among Co-Workers
Competition is good. It motivates and a good team leader will encourage competition among management. However, that competition must be coupled with cooperation as part of the business’ best practices. This is where the team leader comes into the picture.
The downside to unmanaged competition is a loss of productivity, greater turnover, less innovation and a team frozen in place by fear. It’s critical that the team leader encourage healthy competition. Praise loudly. But give the whole team its due. Indeed, one or two managers may have solved a problem but virtually everything you do within your business is a collaborative effort. Without that understanding on the part of all employees, your company is dead in the water.
Compromise – Ockham’s Razor
Ockham’s Razor is a principle attributed to a 14th century philosopher who stated, in a loose translation: “Things should not be multiplied without reason.” Over the years, this simple idea has taken on numerous variations on a theme but, in the end, it all comes down to one thing: keep it simple.
In terms of business and, in particular, business solutions, Ockham’s Razor is usually applied to differing theories and analyses from two or more credible sources. In this case, keep it simple translates into practice as: The most obvious solution to the problem is usually the right solution.
Reaching the obvious solution, according to Ockham (and various business gurus), involves rejected hypotheses, questions of data interpretation and even validity, the discovery of flaws within a business system and so on.
However, the individuals that make up a team of adversaries is forced to move to the centre to create consensus. This leads to compromise, which, in turn is usually the most obvious solution and the best solution to the business problem.
Which gets us to where we want to be – working within an environment that encourages dissent. When management is able to contest business activity you, the team leader, gain. You gain perspective, you obtain valuable input from a variety of confident advisors working together and you, ultimately, find the best solution to whatever business problem you face.
I continue to watch President-elect Obama assemble a diverse and highly qualified team of adversaries. It should be a very interesting four years.
©Michael Harrison 2008