I spoke at two conferences in recent months: the 2012 Australian Institute of Training & Development National Conference, held in Sydney in April, and the 2012 Engineering Leadership Conference, held in Adelaide in May/June (brief audio selections are below).
At both conferences I highlighted the value of a good argument as an effective vehicle for learning and development. ‘Formal’ leaders play an important role in facilitating good arguments within organisations and communities rather than bad arguments. ‘Informal’ leaders, on the other hand, are more likely to take part in the arguments themselves.
One of my main inspirations for this approach to learning comes from a 1997 article in the Harvard Business Review by Eisenhardt et al, titled How management teams can have a good fight. Whereas organisations often like to avoid conflict (and hence all kinds of arguments), the article argues, rather, “The absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy”.
When our views are rationally challenged in a positive and open context, learning and development often occur. Learning requires embracing differences.
As my own model of learning by arguing presents below, when organisations allow conflicts (either existing conflicts or conflicts facilitated by management) to take place via good arguments, engagement and change can occur. Not all arguments need to be completely resolved in any one event; differences that remain can always be prepared for future good arguments.
But what makes a good argument and how do you have them?
Above all, good humour. Humour allows difficult subjects to be opened whilst minimising negative conflict. A good argument is an event in itself, a training course in itself. As a one hour debate (such as those of my 2011 Debating Series), a good argument can both educate and entertain an audience. Lectures don’t usually engage or challenge in the same way.
For an organisation, the process is simple:
- Identify an issue of importance or controversy for a given organisation.
- Select two teams of great communicators for the debate.
- Allow each team to research the organisation for debating material.
- Stage and record the debate for the organisation, present and future.
Since the conferences, my audiences have shared with me a number of examples from their own organisations for potential debates, from arguing the idea to cancel government services with a benefit-cost ratio of less than 1.0, to arguing the need to change a consultancy’s culture of chargeable hours. My pleasure is in facilitating those arguments.
Engineering Leadership Conference