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Ignite debate by teaming up rivals

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Many leaders insist that harmony among their management ranks is overrated. Top CEOs often prize fiery debate over make-no-waves agreement.

Kevin Reddy, chairman and CEO of Noodles & Co., took a calculated risk in 2009 by hiring a senior executive who had a bitter history with one of Reddy’s top lieutenants. He figured that if they fought before, they’d fight again. And that’s exactly what he wanted.

Reddy recruited Dan Fogarty as chief marketing officer even though Fogarty did not mesh well with Keith Kinsey, president of Noodles & Co. Fogarty and Kinsey previously worked together at Chipotle Mexican Grill and their clashing styles and repeated arguments became industry legend.

To teach the former combatants to team up, Reddy played referee whenever Kinsey and Fogarty battled. He kept spurring them to empathize with each other and find ways to respectfully disagree.

During a road trip to visit the company’s restaurants, the two men started to gel. Fogarty jokingly refers to that experience as “couples therapy” in which they learned to focus on Reddy’s common goal for the organization.

It wasn’t easy. Kinsey, an accountant by training, favors daily routines. He likes predictability in his workday, including always eating the same lunch. He brings a stark financial mind-set to his analysis.

Fogarty, by contrast, has a freewheeling advertising background. He rejects routine and welcomes variety—in his meals, travel and outlook.

For Reddy, it was a match made in heaven. He benefited from their differing perspectives and made better decisions as a result.

“I don’t mind if it gets a little bloody as long as it’s merely a flesh wound,” Reddy explains.

— Adapted from “A Restaurant’s Team of Rivals,” Jennifer Alsever, www.fortune.com.

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