Over and over again I run into teams, organizations and groups that do not know how to have candid, honest, robust discussion. As a result there are many elephants in the room that cannot be discussed and which create an underlying mistrust within the group - that is what elephants do.
Lets define robust dialogue. It is the ability to address any issue in the team or organization as long as there are not hidden agendas or personal attacks. No personal attacks keeps the discussion at the strategic or organizational level. No hidden agendas means that we are upfront with why we are asking the question or pushing into an issue. Hidden agendas create mistrust while being honest and direct creates trust.
Unfortunately there are plenty of people who agree with robust dialogue but who are operating with hidden agendas - behind the scenes maneuvering and politics hidden behind a facade of wanting to solve a problem or address an issue. In reality they have an agenda as to where the discussion ends up and they are maneuvering the end result toward their intended ends. This is neither fair nor helpful.
The very concept of robust dialogue where any issue can be put on the table as long as there are no hidden agendas or personal attacks is that it is in the strong discourse of different ideas and options that we actually get to solutions that are better than any of us would have come up with individually. But - there must be an ethos on the team, modeled by the leader that it is not only OK but it is valued to put issues on the table (graciously) that need to be addressed.
What prevents robust dialogue? First, leaders who are threatened by anything negative being said - and they perceive any potential criticism as negative. Frankly, that is poor leadership and I would never again work for a leader who was threatened by robust dialogue.
Second, elephants that everyone knows cannot be addressed because the group cannot handle talking about the issue. I was recently with a board that told me there were many elephants in the room that they have not been able to talk about for years and it was those elephants that were keeping them from moving forward. I asked what they were and we proceeded to name them. Once named, elephants are no longer elephants but issues that need to be resolved. Wherever elephants exist, there is not true robust dialogue.
Third, fear keeps some groups from engaging in honest dialogue. The fear is around what it might do to the dynamics of the group. Feeling good about one another and about the ministry takes precedence over honest evaluation of where things really are. Feeling comfortable trumps missional fulfillment. This is where many groups need to grow (up) and put mission before comfort and press into missional health and fulfillment.
Why is robust dialogue so important? Because it is in the conflict of ideas that we come to new solutions and ways of thinking. Those new solutions would never have emerged without the intellectual capital and clash of ideas. That is why ministries that invite and encourage robust dialogue are those who are on the cutting edge of change and effectiveness.