July 23


What you could learn from ‘Beyond Measure’ by Margaret Heffernan (2015, 100 pages)

Creating a culture that allows constructive conflict to flourish will lead to better solutions, more value for customers and more value for your business.  In her book ‘Beyond Measure’ Margaret Hefferman suggest that there are many small changes to improve your company’s culture.

  • Difference makes a difference.  Teams need to include people with differences in thought, to create conditions for better discussions and analysis and to prevent groupthink
  • Creative conflict takes practice.  Teams need to get used to disagreeing, and people need to get used to not getting their own way (especially leaders and executives)
  • Crucial differences.  Someone needs to look for the counter argument – what would we see of the opposite was the case or if we were wrong?
  • Leaders and teams need better questions
    • Who needs to benefit from our decision?  How?
    • What else would we need to know to be more confident of this decision?
    • Who are the people affected by this decision; who have the least power to influence it?
    • How much of this decision must we make today?
    • Why is this important? And what’s the important about that?
    • If we had infinite resources (time, money, people) what would we do? What would we do if we had more?
    • What are all the reasons this is the right decisions? What are all the reasons it is the wrong decision?
  • Make the most of mistakes.  All teams and individuals make mistakes.  Ensure that your teams and organisation learn from mistakes by being open about what went wrong and share the learning
  • The most successful teams have strong social capital, as shown by:
    • Giving each person roughly equal time to talk
    • Higher social sensitivity (more empathetic)
    • More diverse (specifically more women)
  • A few things can be done to make teams more productive:
    • No long hours – you become worse at problem-solving, less creative, less able to change or adapt
    • Keep teams together – it takes time for teams to build social capital, teams take 40 days to bed in and keep getting more productive
    • Leaders speak less – managers try to get stuff done, leader try to create the conditions for teams to be successful.  Poeple in senior positions who speak first, or too often, close down discussion and debate.  Speaking less will allow people to explore the problem, use their expertise (and closeness to the customer) and get used to solving problems themselves
    • Go slow after you have gone fast – teams and organisation have a natural tempo, going more quickly than this is tiring, and teams will need a break after you crunch (you also need to work long-term on blockers)
  • For organisations to be productive, they need to break silos.
    • Get out of the office.  Lead by walking around
    • Get teams out of their office.  Teams need to see how the rest of the company works, to build both empathy and understanding
    • Force divergent thinking.  Teams and inexperienced leaders will need a hand, support them by encouraging them to include
  • Leaders need to:
    • Expect great things.  Expectations, rather than actual ability, impact performance (Pygmalion effect).  So expect great things, and you are more likely to get them
    • No forced rankings.  Ranks create hierarchy and show people that some people are more valued than others
    • Believe in your people.  Hire the right people and show trust in faith in them, if people are not productive it is the company’s and leaders fault
    • Distribute power.  The more power you give away, the more you have, people take ownership, take care and deliver more
    • The best idea leads.  The best idea must win, not the most important person in the room


What would I do differently after reading this book?

  • Ensure that disagreement and conflict are encouraged, but work to keep it professional and not personal (play the ball, not the player)
  • Keep teams together for longer, and keep them fresh by rotating new people into the team, rather than splitting the team up completely
  • Expect great things
  • Talk less


You can buy ‘Beyond Measure’ by Margaret Heffernan here on Amazon UK.

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