Richard Branson on how to overcome disagreements in business

The Virgin Founder offers up some advice on how to get the best out of your team and make things run smoothly, even when you’re not all seeing eye to eye...

In a recent blog Richard Branson answered a reader's question on how to make business partnerships work, take a look at his top three tips and then share with us any that you've picked up over the years.

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Don’t be afraid to debate

Over almost 50 years in business, I have learned that having a healthy debate about strategy and direction is vital if a business is to succeed, so I always encourage my colleagues to challenge me and speak up if they disagree with any of our group’s plans. The old saying that "a family that eats together, stays together" also applies to disagreements in business - a team that challenges each other will be successful together.

This may seem like bad advice to leaders who believe that senior management teams should always be harmonious, but I disagree. Of course, you cannot be at permanent loggerheads with your senior colleagues or fellow founders, but the occasional debate is good for everyone and will help to sharpen your team’s focus.

Get rid of ‘yes’ men

Disagreement and debate is healthy - organizations run by a chief executive who lords over a team of “yes” men is unlikely to succeed. I have always surrounded myself with colleagues who think differently than I do and who bring different skills to our companies. As I have written in previous columns, my early businesses were founded with Nik Powell when we were teenagers. We complemented each other well - Nik was very organized and cautious, while I was more of a free spirit. We learned a lot about how to work together as we established Student magazine, our mail-order record business and then a retail business together - he was the perfect foil for me, since I constantly had ideas for new ventures. 

Avoid making your arguments through PowerPoint

As you assess the issues that you and your partners don’t see eye-to-eye on, try to encourage real conversation so that you can get to the core of the problem.

Avoid analysis by PowerPoint, since those presentations introduce an unnatural, almost robotic tone that’s no help when you’re having an argument. And remember that there is no better way of sorting out a difference of opinion than with a good-humored, strong debate - and maybe a stiff drink or two together!


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