[This originally ran April 19.]
Like most cats, I read the Harvard Business Review. A recent article by Jennifer Porter explained why so many organizations reek of “yes” men, starting with the story of a guy cut loose from senior management at a Fortune 100 company:
“As I considered Joe’s story, I thought about other leaders and executive teams I have worked with where similar patterns have existed. I recognized an ‘opposer’ in virtually every team I’ve worked with in the last decade. Not only did every team have an oppose (or two), but almost every team was annoyed by the behavior, considered it unhelpful, and wished it (and the person) would go away. In some cases, reactions to the opposer were quite intense, ranging from stonewalling or the silent treatment to aggressive outbursts.”
She goes on to explain how naysayers are vital to the effectiveness of teams and why no company ever sees that on a micro level. Opposition to groupthink slows the process down. Some team leaders take disagreement personally. Opponents to ideas are seen as derailing the conversation. People are uncomfortable with conflict (think about candyass college students terrorized by chalk). A lack of unity is not appreciated.
Ms. Porter, managing partner at The Boda Group, outlines steps bosses can take, which mostly boil down to listening (oh, the horror). She concludes: “When you separate the behavior from the person … and take explicit steps to encourage and reward opposition, you will be moving toward moving toward building stronger teams.”
Many topics inspire BS books, but the business of business seems to lead the pack. The best work on the subject was published 46 years ago. It’s called “Up the Organization.” The author, former Avis Rent-a-Car CEO Robert Townsend, passed away in 1977. It’s too bad too few people listened to him.