The Power of Dissent

Before starting here at Recreation Management, I worked for a different publisher, where we had a standing weekly meeting every Monday morning. At that meeting, six or seven of us would gather around the table to talk about all of the projects we were working on. We brainstormed new ideas, got plans rolling and conducted post-mortems on projects that had been completed.

And every week, without fail, no matter which project we were talking about, no matter who was talking, my immediate supervisor would disagree. Not only did he disagree, but he disagreed with well-thought-out arguments, forcing everyone to look deeper.

At first, I found it offputting—even a little shocking. Why was he always so disagreeable? But after a year or so, I started to realize that he disagreed even when he didn't really disagree. It was his way of making sure we really knew what we were about. By continually playing the devil's advocate, he forced the team to consider every angle, and as a result, when plans came to be executed, they were solid plans. Oh, sure. There were still bumps in the road. You can't foresee every possible problem. But for the most part, he did a good job of preparing us for every possible worst-case scenario.

As it turns out, people who disagree aren't always disagreeable. And a team of yes-men (and yes-women) is exactly the opposite of what you really want.

When you're working on a project, big or small, from planning your pool's programming for the coming season to planning a brand-new splash play area, from working out decisions on upgrades at your sports or fitness facility to deciding how to fund a new park or community center, you can't make the decisions all on your own. You need a team.

But how do you go about assembling your team? Who are the right people for the project? What kinds of personalities do you look for? Do you look for personable people who you know will get on board with your plan right away?

Are you sure that's a good idea?

When you're working on a project, whether the stakes are high or low, you need to take care when assembling your team. And, while it can be frustrating to face discord and disagreement, you need to bear in mind that you might not necessarily want your team to agree with you all of the time. It's important to remember, whether you're in charge of the whole process, a key player or just a pawn, that you don't know what you don't know. So you should surround yourself with people who do know.

And once your team's in place, you need to stay comfortable with dissent. You need to be willing to challenge your own beliefs about your project. By searching out the right players and asking them to share their knowledge, you get the most complete picture, the most actionable intelligence. And you need to do this on a continual basis. In other words, you can make up your mind, but you should still be willing to recognize ideas and challenges that can help improve your end result.

That's how you take a project from start to finish successfully.


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,
Recreation Management

[email protected]