Healthy Tension in Leadership Teams

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I was eating organic natural peanut butter straight out of the jar in Jim‘s kitchen today. He encouraged me to eat as much of it as I could, because he tried to like it and just couldn’t. He’s back to some nasty processed sugary stuff I won’t get near. I made a face and wondered how someone who eats so well could put that crap in their body. But I was happy I could eat the rest of the good jar.

Meanwhile, we were discussing something about one of our clients, and coming at it from completely different angles, as usual. It got me thinking about all the things we disagree on… and let’s say it goes far beyond nut butters. I like to plan things way in advance. He wants to stay flexible. He likes to start. I like to finish. I like standardizing the way we do things. He doesn’t want to waste time. He’s skeptical. I’m trusting. I believe in enterprise architecture. He questions its value. On so many of our client projects we go back and forth, or build on each others ideas, respectfully criticizing, until we get to something great that we can both support. I love having Jim and my other colleagues around because I know their perspective helps me come up with better ideas, better recommendations, stronger insights.

One of our clients was talking the other night about how cool it is to observe the Thought Ensemble banter. Another client recently described the ying yang. On most of our projects these days, we have some combination of the Thought Ensemble team represented, and we’ll pull in others for additional perspective even if they aren’t officially on the project. And we often disagree in front of our clients. They seem to like it. They see multiple angles, we work through it together, and come to better conclusions in the end.

Healthy tension is so important in leadership teams. As long as there’s an element of underlying respect, good arguments allow people to vet ideas faster and more effectively. We talk about it when coaching people, making sure that they have those kind of people around them, along with the trust and respect necessary to have productive conversations. I’m really lucky that I have it with my business partner, my other Thought Ensemble colleagues, clients, friends and other people in my life. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Even my favorite nut butter.

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