Differing Opinions on a Management Team

A good thing came out of my "no conflict, no interest" post.

It inspired a post from Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, on the desirability of conflicting opinions on a management team.

Matt says:

A management team that finds itself 100% in agreement, 100% of the
time, is in trouble.  A management team that can have disagreements and
use that tension productively to drive decisions is much better off.
Building such a team requires the CEO to seek out executives who view
the world differently, who have the courage to speak their minds in the
face of strong opposition, and who have the ability to see different
points of view.

I am pleased to read this coming from one of our portfolio companies because I totally agree that groupthink is a terrible thing. Differing opinions are critical to the process of making good decisions.

One thing about being a board member instead of management team member at these companies is that we often don’t get visibility into the differing opinions, just the end result. That’s fine for most things, but sometimes it is important for the board to get some insight into the decision making process, including the differing opinions.

The temptation as a CEO is to have the debate internally but once a decision is made to present it as a unanimous decision that everyone is enthusiastically supporting. If it is an important decision and there is a lot of internal debate, I would suggest the CEO give the board a bit of color commentary on the process.

I think it gives the board a better idea of the people on the management team, the way they think, and their ability to come together to make a decision. The CEO has to be careful not to encourage another similar debate at the board level, but I still think the risk is worth it.  And every once in a while a debate at the board level about an important decision is a good thing anyway.