Building consensus through debating? Yes, that’s possible!

Surface opposing opinions with this structure to keep the discussion lively and productive

Have you ever noticed that it can be hard to come outright and say “I disagree” to another teammate? For most people , it’s much easier to say “Yes, and…” or simply remain quiet, even when they  have a totally opposite but a valid view.

For a lot of culture-forward companies that emphasize gaining consensus and coming to an agreement, the idea of debating to gain consensus can feel scary, contentious or even old-fashioned.

source: MSNBC

However, Netflix is famous for its positive company culture, and one of the practices it touts is this ability to debate, as shared by Patty McCord’s book Powerful. The culture encourages executives to disagree publicly and host open debates on important decisions. 

Debates are best used when there are two sides with real differences of opinion that you want to bring out in the open. Here’s a quick guide to hosting your own workplace debate in 15 minutes or less.

1. Announce the topic and solicit debaters

A spur-of-the-moment debate will only play into existing power dynamics on the team and disadvantage internal processors and introverts. Instead, announce the topic a week in advance and personally invite those whom you know have opposing opinions to represent that side. Ask them to prepare a 3-minute argument.

2. Set the ground rules

Organizational consultant and executive coach Simon Goland has shared with us three rules for a healthy debate:

  1. Don’t play to win — play for the whole team
  2. Acknowledge multiple truths — two people can be right
  3. Keep it civil — remember you need to work together afterward

3. Host the Debate

Flip a coin to see who goes first. Ask one side to share their arguments for three minutes (set a timer!) Then hear arguments from the other side.

To emphasize that the goal is to make the best decision for your team, have everyone on your team take the time to acknowledge one great point the ‘other side’ made.

4. Put it to a Vote

Make your decision final with a team vote, and don’t forget to designate a tie-breaker! 

Have you ever hosted a debate on your team? Let us know how it went or your own tips in the comments. 

You can try hosting a practice debate with your team using the Groan-free Decisions box from Culture Bites, compete with a script to read aloud.

Groan-free Decisions Activity Card

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