The 10th Man Rule



It was 1973.

Conventional wisdom within both the Israeli and US intelligence community was that the Egyptians would not attack… at least not in the short run. Their sources reported parts shortages and a lack of training within the Egyptian army. And… it was Ramadan—the Muslim month of fasting. Plus… they (the Israelis) had trounced their foes just six years earlier in the Six Day War. They were confident on October 5th, 1973.

October 6th, 1973, proved they were wrong. The ensuing Yom Kippur war of Arab countries against Israel was a demoralizing blow. Afterwards there was a ripple effect in Israel: land surrendered to broker peace (the Sinai); political defeat and resignations (including Prime Minister Golda Meir); calls for dismissal of senior intelligence officials; and, reportedly, the incorporation of a new approach to decision-making within Israeli intelligence circles—especially when easy consensus appears. People have come to term this approach as The 10th Man Rule.

The 10th Man discipline is one where the group intentionally appoints at least one person to serve as the loyal dissenter.

The 10th Man Rule is a means of countering our human nature that prefers harmony within our inner circle. When that default bias for consensus is combined with an important decision, as the Israelis experience demonstrates, the result can be painful.

Have you ever been in the room when it feels like ‘the train has left the station’… everyone seems enthusiastic about the decision and you ‘go along for the ride’?

The 10th Man discipline is one where the group intentionally appoints at least one person to serve as the loyal dissenter. “Loyal” because their underlying motive is to arrive at the best decision for the organization. And, as the dissenter, they not only have permission but a duty to disagree and ‘poke holes’ in assumptions being made by the group. This technique forces you to slow down and re-consider the wisdom of the decision and whether contingency planning or other risk mitigation might be worthwhile.

What You Can Do

  1. If your group is suffering from artificial harmony, incorporate trust-building activities into your agenda. If that just feels awkward, an external facilitator can help you transition to battling issues and not soldiers on your own side.

  2. Assess how skilled your group is at having healthy conflict. There are a number of anonymous diagnostic surveys that can be helpful in exposing how team or board members really think about the group’s decision-making effectiveness.

  3. As a leadership team, discuss the potential trap of agreeing to achieve consensus while possibly missing the best solution.

#decisions