Imagine that your team has arrived at an impasse. After a constructive debate about two viable options, the dialogue begins to deteriorate. People's positions begin to harden, and two polarized camps emerge. Individuals begin restating their arguments, often forcefully, rather than sharing new information or analysis. Voices and tensions rise. What can you do as a team leader in these circumstances?
Here's one interesting strategy you might consider. I learned about this technique from the leader at a non-profit organization several years ago. The senior management team had arrived at an impasse. The leader adjourned a contentious meeting one day by giving team members some homework. He asked the members in each of the two entrenched camps to come back the next day with a memo and presentation that made the case for the option for which the opposing camp had advocated. In short, he asked each subgroup to step into the other side's shoes.
He wanted them to try to understand the other side's perspective, line of reasoning, and assumptions. He felt that they had stopped listening to each other and ceased trying to understand one another. Asking them to swap roles could deepen mutual understanding, and in so doing, perhaps help the team uncover common ground or opportunities for compromise.
In the end, the exercise did not immediately end the impasse, but it led to a much more constructive dialogue and debate. Ultimately, they chose a course of action with which everyone could live, and for which all team members agreed to cooperate on implementation. Everyone did not get all that they wanted, but they felt that they had been heard and understood by their colleagues and their leader, and thus, they could commit to the final decision.