I think business debate is good. But I am a product of my early career environment. I spent the first ten years of my career at Unisys Corporation. Unisys was (and probably still is) predominantly an engineering company. Open debate was common, vigorous and expected. You could disagree with the CEO as long as it was done respectfully and with the goal of finding the best answer.
After ten years in that environment I moved to LensCrafters. For me, it was culture shock. The style which had earned me promotions and achievement awards at Unisys was neither welcomed nor appreciated. Open debate was frowned upon. The culture respected and expected behind the scenes consensus building. Executive meetings were much more about ratification than vigorous debate.
Which approach is better? They both have their strengths and weaknesses. While the decision making process at LensCrafters tended to be time consuming, once a decision was reached the force of the entire organization was brought to bear against execution. Everyone was committed to the goal and it showed. The company set big goals and generally achieved them. At times, however, the need to satisfy so many constituents meant that the decision was less than optimal. At Unisys decisions were reached more quickly without extended negotiations. That made it easier to set direction. But at times, after the fact negotiations could hamper execution and limit organization effectiveness.
As with many things in life, balance is key. There is room for open debate . . . but only to a point. There are times when it clearly becomes obstructionist and does not further the organization’s goals. At times like this, it is up to leadership to step in and end the debate.
Whether you are in a leadership role or a participant in the debate, ask yourself if it is serving the organization’s goals or whether it is serving some other interest?
Clearly we are in a down economic environment and it is now more important than ever for companies to act clearly and decisively. As you participate in or lead the decision making process at your organization, it’s important to consider how long and hard to debate an issue. Once all opinions are heard, there is a point where the organization is better served by moving forward in a definite direction rather than languishing without a decision.
End The Debate . . . Decide!
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