"Play Devil's Advocate to Create Collaboration in the Workplace" – I Don't Agree

Writing at Talent Culture, Kirsten suggests that playing devil’s advocate allows the creation of collaboration in the workplace:

The void in communication may be due to a lack of questioning. I’ve come to think that there is a lack of “why” in present day workplace culture. As always, there are exceptions to this theory, but overall I feel that people have become hesitant to ask questions in the workforce, new media, school, etc.

Of course no one particularly wants to challenge their superiors (although a good leader shouldn’t make you feel intimidated or afraid of confrontation!), but I guarantee that without asking critical questions, creative and corporate progression will be compromised to an extent.

A diverse staff with contrasting views and opinions is the most effect way to build a constructive workplace community, and it doesn’t require a monumental shift in work ethic to change a workplace full of “yes’” into one of “what ifs?” Who will be your Chief Collaboration Officer?

Teach your team how to effectively play devil’s advocate.

My Comments
1. I’m not sure about this. Asking good questions can indeed lead to insightful thinking, but I don’t think established groups can do it as Kirsten advocates.

2. In my early doctoral work (currently on hold), I focused on how groups get into patterned ways of working – what one researcher called “interstructuring.” This meant that they grooved a particular way of relating to each other, and over time lost the ability, willingness, and capability to change. My doctoral work was going to focus on a particular approach for changing these patterns, but my funding ran out … and I had to get back to being the bread-winner for 10 other people. It’s a great life!

3. Go and read this article on my blog: What’s the Best Group Design for Highly-Effective Projects? The key principle in that article is that well-formed groups – what Kirsten is referring to – are unable to do great work. The secret sauce was to mix things up by introducing new people into the mix, who would play devil’s advocate not just because it was the “approved time during the week to do so,” but because they were asking real questions to try and understand the nature of the group.

4. So … yes and no to Kirsten’s proposal. Asking good questions is critical to improving work outcomes and getting over a “yes” culture, but trying to do it with established groups and at “approved times” won’t work, in my opinion. Bringing new ideas into the group – external groups, customers, consultants, new project members – is a more effective way of reaching the performance challenge Kirsten is chasing.

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