This topic is critical, mainly because as a people manager, you are in a position of power in your team. Over time, what you nurture is not just a team who does as you say, but a team who is capable of thinking for themselves. I consider this is one of the leading indicators of a team/company’s culture.
If you want to maintain a high output quality, it’s important to have reasonable debates amongst your team where new ideas can be brought up without junior members feeling pressured by seniority. When this occurs effectively, you’ll know that your idea-meritocracy culture is working as intended. It is exceptionally satisfying when the same process is repeating itself without your presence. I often tell my team members not to believe everything I say and to always think for themselves. The same goes for organizations; if we can’t explain the rationale or context behind a decision or process, maybe we should rethink the entire solution using the “first principle.”
In his book “Principles: Life and Work,” Ray Dalio (the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund Bridgewater) advocates for radical truth, radical transparency, and believability-weighted decision-making. Idea meritocracy is not just a nice saying or a theoretical concept. Dalio has built one of the best companies in its field, managing more than $160 billion with more than 1400 team members using the principles above.
By creating an environment where it is okay to have dissenting opinions and to voice them, you are encouraging a more open-minded and flexible thought process from your team.
I would argue that in order to create a meaningful debate, there must be an element of trust within the team. If team members do not feel comfortable discussing certain topics with one another, it may be an indication that there is a lack of trust. In order to build trust, I always start by being transparent with my team. I tell them what my objectives are and why I am pushing for certain things. By being open and honest with your team, you create an environment of mutual respect, which is critical for a functional team.
As Dalio said, having an open-minded culture at our company doesn’t mean that every opinion is weighed equally. There should be a hierarchy of merit, and it is based on track record, and subject matter expertise, not titles or years of experience.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think that encouraging meaningful debate is important for people managers? Let me know in the comments below!