Disagreements between staff can generate new ideas

Firms should encourage disagreements between staff to generate new ideas

Companies should encourage more disorder between staff because disagreements can encourage better decision making, research suggests.

Bosses are often told they should be creating harmony, but instead they should help their employees constructively clash to inject “dynamic tension” into workplaces because it helps them come up with better ideas, according to a new study.

In order for these clashes to be productive, rather than harmful to relationships, experts have found managers of small and medium-sized firms need to need to create stronger networks between staff so bonds can develop between employees, the research shows. This will allow people to better compete to share ideas, critiquing and improving them without fear of offending each other.

Having strong bonds between staff can help people understand their own, and others, job roles and strengths and weaknesses. It can also improve the flow of information around the company.

Graham Perkins, from the University of Exeter Business School, who carried out the research, said: “Small and medium sized companies need staff to disagree with each other in order to encourage them to find and act upon good ideas. Disagreement can be positive, as long as it is managed in the right way. To do this they need to ensure people across the company can connect with each other and share ideas and information. This is about creating networks which are stronger than people just politely getting on with each other.

“When people are frightened of getting things wrong they are less likely to put forward bold, new ideas. It is important for them to be able to suggest new ways of working. It is equally important for their colleagues to critique those ideas, so only the best are taken forward.

“Good managers manage this tension carefully, making sure it is not personal, but is open and respectful, and people are contributing not attacking each other. If they encourage strong ties between their employees then it enables the creative process to be somewhat “messy”, with the best ideas emerging through free-wheeling communication.

In the UK it is estimated that small and medium-sized companies provide 60 percent of all private sector employment (15.6 million individuals), and account for almost half of private sector turnover (£1.8 trillion). They depend on new ideas for their survival.

Dr Perkins spent time in ten companies in the South West of England over nine months, observing and also interviewing some staff about relationships and how staff interacted socially. He also asked how they store and share ideas, and the impact of the work environment on this. Staff were also questioned about how managers responded to errors, and if new ideas were given appropriate attention. 

Companies involved in the research included a healthcare business, with 150 employees, an arts organisation with 130 employees, a company in the marine industry with 55 employees and a consultancy company with 45 employees.

Exploring the mechanisms through which strong ties impact upon the development of ideas in SME contexts is published in the Journal of Small Business Management

Date: 18 January 2018

Read more University News