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"Dissent" is a strong word, but in this context it simply means speaking up you disagree with something being done or discussed.
The "obligation" comes from the fact that at McKinsey, voicing your dissent is not optional, it is required.
The Firm believes that every consultant - even the least-tenured, greenest Business Analysts (BAs) and Associates - is intelligent and has valuable insights to offer. On McKinsey engagement teams and in collaborative problem solving sessions, everyone is supposed to have an equal voice and is expected to contribute to discussions - that includes exercising the obligation to dissent.
This is so engrained in the problem-solving culture at McKinsey that even if you work for a former McKinsey consultant, it's likely that your McKinsey boss still wants to know if you disagree with something.
It can be over minor things like how to word a phrase or apply an Excel function. But it also applies to the biggest questions on a client engagement like the overall answer or the storyline for a critical deck. Even if your dissent is not acted upon, any good McKinsey teams and leaders will hear you out, consider your opinion, and appreciate your contribution to the discussion.
At least, that's how it's supposed to work! In a later post I will discuss a couple of caveats to the obligation to dissent.