A Little Cheek for a Lot of Gain

A lack of group intelligence in companies deteriorates employee work environments and reduces company performance. Agnès Muir-Poulle, coach and professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM), shares with us her thoughts and ideas on this subject as published in her book Petit traité d'impertinence constructive (A Little Essay on Constructive Impertinence - Ed. Presses Universitaires de Grenoble).


First priority on this coach's list: building an internal constructive dialogue around controversial subjects, a critical factor not only for company growth but employee health as well. This "constructive impertinence" skill, as Agnès Muir-Poulle calls it, refers to: "the capacity to express one's opinion about delicate subjects and construct an unstressful yet productive exchange with superiors. It's essential to bring solutions to the table. Simply criticizing or condemning is not enough."

Why is constructive impertinence so important?

"It's critical to develop a sustainable organizational structure in our ever more complex global economy. This is only possible when an organization links a healthy environment to performance. This concern for employee well-being implies encouraging constructive impertinence as it opens the door to progress for both the company and the individual." explains Agnès Muir-Poulle, who is also a member of the Mindfulness Well-Being at Work and Economic Peace Institute at GEM.

The path to well-being and efficiency at work

Traditional managerial methods rarely encourage such behavior. During hard economic times, the taboo of going against the boss further constrains free speech. In addition, managers themselves are undertrained in the ways to encourage group intelligence. As a result, employee well-being and relationships are impacted. As worker satisfaction decreases, their involvement and thus their efficiency decrease as well. "Such barriers limit an organization's agility and its ability to simplify procedures that are no longer necessary, a fact that diminishes innovation and value creating capabilities." adds Agnès Muir-Poulle.

Changing hierarchical structures

How to encourage constructive impertinence? "It's a learning process built around understanding how we position ourselves, argue and debate." says Agnès Muir-Poulle. After learning, comes action: It's critical to create a positive dynamic. It's up to company leaders to motivate and train managers in group intelligence. There are numerous ways to create a positive environment that encourages constructive criticism and closer relationships between various hierarchical levels.

"Training employees to use DAIDA techniques (Describe, Analyze, Imagine, Decide, Act) is very useful and helps bring a factual approach to decision-making. In managing teams, it's important to foster diverse profiles, encourage free speech through informal relations and give everybody the chance to speak during meetings so they can voice both positive and negative comments accompanied by a possible solution. Also remember to take time and think before deciding. It can be useful to ask a meeting participant to take a step back and observe the proceedings in order to verify the efficiency of your meetings." concludes Agnès Muir-Poulle. While this approach can require important changes in company culture, the results, namely happier and more efficient employees, can bring a company sustainable long term benefits.