Garry Emmons, Senior Associate Editor of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Bulletin, recently wrote a short article titled "Encouraging Dissent in Decision-Making."
The format for these HBS articles is very reader-friendly. The articles are usually 3-5 pages, often summarizing broader research efforts. The articles are essentially teasers if you get really interested in the topic and you want more, but they are also giving you enough information to stick to the article if you don't have time for more. If the 3-page article is too much for you, stick to the paragraph executive summary and you'll still be getting something useful.
The gist of the article: "Our natural tendency to maintain silence and not rock the boat, a flaw at once personal and organizational, results in bad—sometimes deadly—decisions. Think New Coke, The Bay of Pigs, and the Columbia space shuttle disaster, for starters."
As is often the case, the key to encouraging dissent and overcoming our reluctance to speak up is to set up the right incentives and rewards system. If this requires changing the organizational culture, it's not a small task and as pointed out in the article, it needs to start from the top. What is the advice, then, for those lower down in the chain of command who would like to find constructive ways to dissent? I would like to find an article on dissent from the point of view of the employee: "How to dissent without getting fired -- or resigning?"
Here is a start from Kevin Daley in T+D:"How to disagree: go up against your boss or a senior executive and live to tell the tale."