Monday, December 28, 2009

Dissonance and Innovation: The Careful Art of Disagreement

There is a lot of focus in businesses and organizations on creating and maintaining “healthy” teams. Healthy in this sense generally means the team efficiently completes its tasks and meets or exceeds its’ goals while everyone gets along. Individuals that challenge the process, question assumptions, or disagree with popular ideas are generally thought of as problems that need solving.

As a consultant working from the outside of organizations I have the pleasure of viewing things from a larger picture, a less entangled place. I’m not in the system so I can see the value of those challenging the system (which is my job as a consultant).

Typically when I work on organization development projects teasing out deep vision, building strategy from the wisdom of the masses, while developing teams and leaders, I often work to support the wisdom of descent. In my and many others experience, indeed overarching in development theory and practice, the wisdom, innovation, and refinement (ultimately: greater success) that dissonance brings is invaluable.

Considering this, it’s interesting that while running a project this fall I became very frustrated with a member on my team for ironically doing what I typically support and praise: questions and challenge. As the project continued and I continued working with this person I noticed a myriad of feelings and thoughts towards team dissonance and challenge.

Sometimes I appreciated it greatly, for his insights we helpful in refining the process and practice we were building. Other times, when his ideas didn’t seem to add value, I successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) redirected the disagreement with ease, gained consensus and moved forward. Other times I felt completely frustrated with the disagreement and wanted to say what I never thought I would as a manager, “because I said so and I’m in charge.”

Through the experience I thought a lot about my assumptions around dissonance, disagreement, challenge, and the skillful act of “perturbing the system,” as we say in the development world. It is true that disagreement is essential to any healthy system or relationship (note Lincoln’s Team of Rivals); however, all challenge and no agreement causes the system to fall apart and the process breaks down.

Dissonance, disagreement and challenge, in an organizational context requires great skill and awareness. If the individual is unconscious of the impact and is unskillful in their action, things fall apart fast. Considering my experience on this project, the amount of times this individual’s disagreements caused refinement compared to the times when his disagreements caused breakdown were unbalanced and frustrating for me and the rest of the team – the conversation most often ended in standstill.

A few essential things are necessary for healthy, strategic dissent: a well developed, emotionally aware leader that appreciates the fruit of challenge, a well developed team steeped in refined communication practice, and a well developed dissenter. It takes great awareness in the leader, team, and dissenter to know when the balance between dissonance and resonance tips too far towards dissonance.

As much as I appreciated the refinement that the dissenter in my team created, and the personal challenge and learning of managing this person, I ultimately choose not to bring him on forward on another phase of the project – it was simply too much challenge: dissonance to breakdown.

Each moment is different, each team is different, and each leader and manager is different. It takes great skill and awareness to know where the line rests and moves beyond dissonance towards breakdown and momentary failure. The line between essential challenge leading to innovation and breakdown is very thin.

An essential practice for every team and leader is to engage in challenging conversations and practice skillful moments of dissent. One simple question I like to ask after proposing a new practice or idea to a team I am managing is “who disagrees and what can we do better here?” Practices like these and many others opens the system allowing the disagreement to become a conscious and valued part of the conversation ensuring greater innovation and success for everyone.

Kris Nelson | Krama Consulting & Development, Inc. |

Telecourse: Becoming Change - January 20th

Telecourse: Becoming Change - Essential Awareness and Capacities for Our Changing World
January 20th - February 24
Complimentary Initial Call January 20th

with Kris Nelson

Ever feel like you can do better? Do you find yourself in the same action and thinking patterns? Are you on the edge of change and growth but unable to move forward? Do you feel you're being pulled towards something new but are unsure what's next? Are you ready to again step forward into a more conscious, effective, and actionable life?

The world needs your service, vision and hope, and you need the capacities and awareness to offer.

If you have recently found yourself:

  • inspired to create change and support others,
  • moving through job and career transition and want a new direction,
  • seeing a new potential but are unsure how to create it,
  • tired of helplessness and are looking for a new empowered conversation,
  • interested in shifting the way you feel about our current culture and economy,
  • seeking new solutions with hope and vision,
Then Becoming Change - Awareness and Capacities for our Changing World was created for you!

Becoming Change is a course designed to empower effective transition. Through a month and a half, 6 conference calls, and 2 coaching sessions you will be guided through a process of transformation. Stepping into new perspectives, strategies, and a community of support you will create the life that you desire and the world needs.

Through your participation in this course you will get:
  • tools to alleviate stress, fear, confusion, and anxiety.
  • practices to create a clear picture and open to a broad view.
  • empowering experiences of vision and purpose.
  • methods to stop knee-jerk reactions and make powerful choices.
  • practical processes and support for creating and implementing strategy.
  • a community of support and guided, hands-on help.

Join us for a complimentary introductory session on January 20th at 5:00 PM PT (8:00 PM ET). Start your journey of transition, vision, and purpose, and experience an interactive conversation with Kris. You will be given practical tools, a course experience, followed by a question and answer session.

To register please email Kris at

Course Outline:

January 20th, Week One: Complimentary Introduction

January 21st - 26th: Orientation and Intention Coaching Session with Kris

January 27th, Week Two: Becoming Change

February 3rd, Week Three: Transition

February 10th, Week Four: Vision

February 17th, Week Five: Strategy

February 24th, Week Six: Being the Change

February 25th+ Continued Support Coaching Session with Kris

Detailed Information:

Investment: $295 (credit cards accepted)

To register now contact Kris at or call 310.779.8587

Kristoffer Nelson | Krama Consulting & Development, Inc. |

Telecourse: Integral Strategic Planning - January 13

Telecourse: Integral Strategic Planning
January 13, 2010, 5:00 PM PT - 6:15 PM PT

Integral Strategic Planning is essential for both individuals and leaders that are committed to achieving their very best and the best in their respective organizations in 2010.

Integral Strategic Planning is an integrated process of creating dynamic change and reaching defined goals for both individuals and organizations. This process considers the goals and intentions of the future and establishes a clear, measured and simple path towards achievement, with considered regard for the complexities of our world today.

In this 75-minute course, you will:
  • Learn to perceive the present from the future
  • Gain tools for perceiving the future from the present
  • Discover how to listen to what the future wants
  • Create strategic stepping stones that incorporate the complexities of our current time
  • Refine your capacity to anticipate resistance and challenge, and plan to avoid these challenges
To register please email Kris at

Kris Nelson | Krama Consulting & Development, Inc. |