The ability to disagree constructively, and asynchronously, is a superpower that can differentiate successful teams and organizations. To foster productive debate, there are steps that leaders can take.

Shipra Kayan, Principal Product Evangelist

February 20, 2024

4 Min Read
Businessperson Hero holding red flag and standing on the top of the mountain under the sun
Muhammad Useng via Alamy Stock

Productive debate is key to generating new ideas and making decisions. That couldn’t be more true when it comes to building products.

A product development team skilled at asking tough questions, challenging ideas, and voicing concerns is more likely to choose the best path forward. Early identification of risks accelerates innovation and project execution, while diverse perspectives are key to sparking creativity and finding novel solutions.

Although fostering productive disagreement sometimes feels tricky, it’s critical for tech leaders to embrace it as a necessary element of innovation. But what are the best ways to support this principle in today’s remote and hybrid settings, when work is increasingly asynchronous? 

Unlock the Power of Diverse Perspectives

Diverse perspectives and skills are a fundamental ingredient of innovation. When team members with different viewpoints, training, and experience come together, it’s a recipe for new ideas -- and, without it, innovation will suffer. In fact, a recent report asked global leaders about this, and 29% identified “lack of diverse ideas and perspectives” as one of the top cultural barriers to innovation.

However, embracing boundary-pushing ideas brings new challenges and sometimes tough conversations. Disagreement can be daunting, and employees might worry about coming across as unkind or judgmental. In an asynchronous work environment, that fear can be exacerbated. Consider the challenges of expressing disagreement through text. When you’re only working with words, it can be even more challenging to fully understand a conversation -- especially the tone.

Related:Streamline Your IT Workforce by Consolidating Roles, Not Workers

Foster the Right Atmosphere for Disagreement

But all work environments, even virtual and asynchronous ones, require disagreement to thrive. So, what’s the solution? Leaders need to create environments that promote open dialogue, respect individual working styles and preferences, and include everyone on the team.

Ask the Right Questions

Encourage meaningful discourse by framing your discussions with deep and specific questions related to the project or topic at hand. Asking employees and training them to ask each other more targeted questions like “What are we missing?” or “How might we fail?” can stimulate thoughtful discussions and cultivate a culture of team collaboration.

Say a team is working on a new feature. Rather than simply asking for feedback by the end of the week, the team leader poses the question, “What aspects of this feature do you believe might not resonate with our target users, and how can we address those concerns?” A prompt like this invites not just disagreement but an opportunity for team members to think critically about the new feature.

Related:How to Submit a Column to InformationWeek

Create Space for Reflection

In asynchronous collaboration, time is both an asset and a challenge. To foster a strong culture of productive disagreement, give team members the space and time they need to process something, formulate their thoughts, and ask questions. Avoid imposing unrealistic and unnecessary deadlines that don’t leave room for reflection.

Another survey of information workers found that in the US, two-thirds of respondents felt more confident sharing their ideas with managers asynchronously. They also noted a preference to provide individual feedback (60%), conduct retrospectives or lookbacks (55%), and collaborate with external partners (52%) all asynchronously.

Use the Right Tools

For leaders who wish to best enable productive disagreement regardless of an employee’s location, it’s critical to have tools that foster open communication, enable individuals to contribute on their own schedules, and facilitate meaningful interactions without real-time engagement.

  • Embrace technology that empowers your teams to communicate ideas and challenge each other anytime, anywhere, and at each member’s convenience.

  • Promote real-time accessibility to ensure that every team member has access to the project or product under discussion at their convenience. This might involve using collaborative tools that allow everyone to view and interact with the content in real-time, or later, if they are in different time zones.

  • Be sure to document and follow up. Record any asynchronous conversations and use integrated note-taking tools to capture key points and insights. After the discussion, distribute these notes to all team members for reference. Encourage everyone to review the notes and provide any additional thoughts or feedback. This way, everyone gets the opportunity to contribute, and the conversation can continue to evolve even after the initial discussion.

Related:Is Now the Perfect Time for CIOs to Grow Their Teams?

Takeaway

The transition to asynchronous work represents a pivotal shift in modern work dynamics, redefining the way organizations operate and how their employees engage with their tasks. To harness the full potential of distributed teams, leaders should embrace productive disagreement, especially in this virtual landscape. The focus extends beyond simple affirmations, such as the use of 'thumbs-up' emojis; it's about nurturing a culture of open discussion, embracing diverse perspectives, and always questioning things.

By asking the right questions, creating space for reflection, and leveraging the right tools, teams can ensure that asynchronous collaboration fosters productive disagreement. In doing so, they can propel individual initiatives and the entire business forward, driving innovation even in a world where team members may never meet in person.

The ability to disagree constructively, and asynchronously, is a superpower that can differentiate successful teams and organizations. It's time to harness the full potential of productive disagreement, even when the digital divide physically separates us.

About the Author(s)

Shipra Kayan

Principal Product Evangelist, Miro

As a Principal Product Evangelist at Miro, Shipra Kayan is at the forefront of how customers leverage design thinking and agile methodologies to improve product innovation and delivery. She brings dozens of battle-scarred, real-world stories from 20 years spent designing and shipping products loved by millions worldwide. Combining her experience, market trends, customer conversations, and research, Shipra brings to life Miro’s point of view on how companies are responding to the dual challenges of engaging a hybrid workforce, while keeping up with an ever-changing, competitive landscape.

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