If you want the best to come out of your sustainability efforts subject them to scrutiny and invite diverging views. The world in which we live is full of echo- chambers when what we need is sustainability thought leadership that invites dissenting points of view. We should welcome debate that leaves no stone unturned and no sacred cows unchallenged. We should be leary of fulsome exchanges that do not deepen or broaden our understanding of an issue. The goal is to arrive at the best possible strategy and the best possible practices.
This train of thought was precipitated by a recent LinkedIn thread which made a similar point. The thread occured on a Sustainability Professionals board and it was started by Hamish Taylor. “Constructive disagreement is so much more powerful than passive collaboration,” Taylor said.
While some may prefer mutual back slapping and shared agreement, this will not necessarily produce the best results. So much is gleaned through constructive disagreement. In this context passive collaboration may even be construed as a disservice to an organization or an idea.
Taylor described a “wonderful experience in which a multi-stakeholder initiative involving several competitors in a pre-competitive environment demonstrated how the power of constructive disagreement and active debate trumps passive collaboration by far.”
Almost all successful managers know that great leadership
encouages disagreement. This view was eloquently articulated in an Inc
article by Mark Peter Davis, CEO, Kohort & VC, High Peaksin. A recent Huffington Post article by Mark Gough, described collaboration as the “art of constructive disagreement.”
However, it is important to have some shared assumptions among stakeholders. As Taylor points out, in the example he referenced, the alignment on key issues was strong and the commitment to do good is shared. But Taylor says it is even more important to “actively argue and take different perspectives in order to advance the strategy and [an] action plan.”
Jef Conley said, “This is quite productive when both parties share respect for the others’ right to fact-based, experience-honed viewpoints. Otherwise, it’s just politics and religion.”
Taylor urges people in similar situations to “speak up, make their disagreements heard because that makes the alignment process on agreed actions so much stronger and credible.”
According to Taylor this leads to “genuinely sustainable change.”
Talor specificall argues that this approach delivers “more power to SDG#17 Partnership for the Goals”.
A number of sustainability professionals left comments supportive of Taylor’s thesis. Kate McHugh responded by saying that she thinks this also “applies to personal and business relationships.”
Kim Springer explained that her staff practice constructive disagreement with her. “I’d much rather be challenged and have a good, healthy debate, with any of my program’s stakeholders,” Springer said, “than be leading down a lesser path. It’s a sign of engagement and a good day.”
Zvi Blank said it best when he stated, “any competent corporate leader prefers to have “Nay” subordinates over “Yeah” ones. That way he (she) can get the true picture of the company’s status.”
Gretchen Reinhardt elaborated further on the theme in this thread saying, “Respectfully engaged conversations speak to one another rather than about one another.”
Ian Commons rounded out the conversation with the following statement, “Dialogue between intellectuals genuinely looking for solutions is indeed an inspiration and a much needed breath of fresh air, there are far to many conversations that are no less than provocative with no intent to benefit.”
Taylor said, “I had several constructive disagreements in the last two days – all of which have produced significant step-change thinking on Sustainability strategy and deliverables… it is well worth having a difference of opinion on a regular basis!”
A discussion about the value of constructive disagreements, should occur very early in the partnership process. The earlier such an approach is discussed the less painful it will be to disengage if there is too much daylight between fundamental assumptions.
For a more detailed discussion of the steps involved in constructive disagreement click here.
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