Don’t give me ‘yes men’

Richard Wright

by Richard Wright

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 12:32


Close your eyes and imagine this situation…

You’re in a meeting and you have an idea. You think it’s a great idea, so you throw it out there. It gets a brief discussion, people nod and make supportive comments. No one questions the wisdom of the concept and ‘hey presto’, it is agreed. Your idea has sailed through with 100% agreement…or has it?

Did everyone agree because the idea was amazing? Or did nobody question it because you’re the boss and no one wanted to challenge you?

There are occasions where that sort of blind faith may be the strength of a team. The armed forces for example, where following orders is the principle upon which most armies function.

But the Boardroom is not a warzone.


Visionary image


In business, having the most stripes in the room should not guarantee your views go unchallenged. Every team should include visionaries who want to make new things happen. This creative energy is the key drive for innovation and change. These people have a wealth of fresh ideas and are wildly optimistic, but can have a tendency to rush into action.

So every team must also have a dissenter who questions the merit of these new decisions. Instead of just going along for the ride, they question the sense of what might follow. We should not see them as the parking brake to great ideas, but as the conscience that makes a group stop and think. They ensure all ideas are stress-tested, and that they are only accepted after a proper debate.

One of the most powerful examples of this is Israeli Military Intelligence (Aman) which has a unit in every department designed to play Devil’s Advocate to any analysis of military intelligence. These units were introduced in 1973 following the Yom Kippur war when, despite seemingly undeniable evidence, the Aman made ill-informed assumptions that led them to ignore the threat of a Syrian/Egyptian invasion.

In Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z, Israel is forecast to survive the Zombie Apocalypse because of what the narrative calls the ‘tenth man’ rule. It states that if ten people are in a room and the first nine people agree, the tenth must disagree. They must find the most credible argument against the group consensus and use it to challenge them.

So outside of a Zombie attack, what does this mean for you and your team?

It means that you should ensure all group decisions are challenged. No plan is perfect. And by stress-testing them to find the weaknesses, the result will be a far greater likelihood for creating plans, strategies and initiatives that are truly robust enough to achieve lasting success.

You can try this outside of work. If you’re making a lifestyle change, thinking about moving to a new house, or just planning a family holiday: give it a go. But if you are doing the latter, don’t walk in on your partner while wearing a Zombie mask shouting “I’m the tenth man!” … they may not find the funny side of that.

Richard Wright

Head of Operations / Chief Operating Officer