I worked with a group recently that was extremely polite with one another. I'm not just talking about the normal courteous behavior. I'm talking about over-the-top, almost painful levels of politeness. There was absolutely no interrupting, no challenges to anything anyone would say, and polite smiles plastered on everyone's faces at all times.

Now this may sound like utopia to some, but I found it extraordinarily uncomfortable. It signaled to me a complete unwillingness to engage in any real way with one another.

As the meeting began, I found everyone’s polite patience in listening to whomever had the floor to be unusually courteous and a nice change of pace. However, as topics were broached that I knew several members of the team were directly opposed to, and nothing was said, it became uncomfortable instead. Even when someone who I knew had a different opinion spoke up, it was not to offer their own point of view and defend their position. Instead, people danced around issues carefully, speaking vaguely and without commitment or conviction. Worse yet, several people did not speak up at all, but rather sat silently with polite smiles on their faces, even nodding at times, giving no indication that they did not agree with something being presented.

Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks about this phenomenon as a "fear of conflict". He states that it will lead to an atmosphere of "artificial harmony". That describes this group to a T.

So what's so bad about that? Shouldn't we be showing respect to each other? I would argue, as would Lencioni, that this is not an example of showing respect. It actually undermines productivity of a team. Without challenging each other's ideas, or engaging in productive discussion where differing opinions can be presented and defended, how is progress made?

Healthy debate and differences of opinion are natural on a team, and essential for success. Don't be afraid to argue! Debate! Engage! Your team will be better for it. Think of one way that you can challenge someone on your team this week. Perhaps in a meeting, where that person presents an idea with which you do not agree. Develop your argument about why you disagree, and come up with an alternate solution to propose. That way, it won't feel as though you are attacking the person - just the idea on it's merits. You're also signaling that you'd like everyone to do the same for your ideas. It will be exciting and maybe very different than your regular meetings, and I dare say, it will be more fun. Good luck!

Author's Bio: 

Ellen Patnaude is Senior Vice President of Corporate Events at The Leader's Institute, a soft-skills training company focusing on team building, public speaking and leadership development. She is the author of a book titled "They Called Me 'The Ugly American Girl'" and writes for several blogs. For free brochures, tips and information, visit our website at http://www.leadersinstitute.com. Ellen is based in the Detroit area and travels worldwide for her clients.