Both sides of a polarity need to be explored and managed well if solutions are to be sustainable. Unbalanced solutions overemphasizing one side of a polarity will lead to swings back and forth between opposing strategies over time. (1)
Wicked questions (2,3) can be used to facilitate movement from "either/or" arguments into "both/and" dialogue. They are designed to help teams jointly address the upsides and downsides of each part of the polarity equally, without judgment or blame.
Examples of wicked questions (from Ref. 3 below): "What opposing-yet-complementary strategies do we use simultaneously in order to be successful?;" "How is it that we have ____ and we have _____simultaneously?;" "How does each side of this polarity have benefits?;" "In what ways does each side of this polarity lead to liabilities?" It helps to offer up front education about polarities and to provide facilitation to help move from debate to mutual exploration.
For example, an argument framing a problem as whether to use directive vs. participatory decision making styles could be re-framed by asking "In what ways do we need both? What are the benefits and risks of each approach?" The aim is to create solutions which maximize benefits and minimize risks of each side of the polarity. (1) For example, benefits of a directive style include more timely and efficient decisions. The risks can be squelching of individual initiative and less motivation. A participatory style might mitigate these downsides but, if overused, could lead to its own problems--such as decisions getting mired down in group process.
Examples of other polarities include: top-down control vs. bottom-up individual/team freedom and initiative; stability vs. change; centralized vs. decentralized planning and implementation; and equality vs. hierarchy. There is evidence that companies which are visionary, successful, and enduring are able to embrace polarities, especially about top-down control vs. freedom and initiative. (4)
(1) Barry Johnson Polarity Management:
identifying and managing unsolvable
(2) Brenda Zimmerman et al Edgeware:
insights from complexity science, 1998
(3) Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless
Liberating Structures: simple rules to
unleash a culture of innovation, 2013
(4) Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras Built to Last:
successful habits of visionary companies, 2004