I have always been amazed that even when teams embrace conflict and honest debate, they can still struggle with commitment. And this tends to drive a dangerous culture – passivity.
I’m sure we have all experienced meetings where the CEO or leader decides a certain strategy, like cost cutting for example, without encouraging debate among the team. Executives simply nod their heads in agreement and the CEO believes that he or she has their commitment going forward. What happens next is that half of the executives go back to their team and tell them to ignore the decision, while the other half give the unpopular order to change the way they purchase to cut costs. When people in the organisation start to notice differences in behaviour between the various departments, frustration and anger arises.
The cost of not achieving commitment is undeniable. And what follows is passive sabotage. The only way to prevent this is to demand conflict from team members and to let them know that they are going to be held accountable for doing whatever the team ultimately decides.
So why do teams that embrace conflict and honest debate still struggle with commitment? The reason is that they fall short of arriving at specific agreements at the end of their discussion. What I have experienced is that even when teams are in the same room and speak the same language, they often leave with different ideas about what was just agreed to. And there is only one way that I know of to prevent this.
At the end of every meeting, functional teams take a few minutes to ensure that everyone is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they are committed to doing. These teams maintain the discipline to review their commitments and stick around long enough to clarify anything that isn’t crystal clear.
We must remember that teams will not actively commit to a decision if they have not had the opportunity to provide input, ask questions and understand the reasoning behind the decision. Another way of saying this is, “if people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in”, which should not be misinterpreted as an argument for consensus. That is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration. Even when teams can’t come to an agreement around the issue, they should still leave the room unmistakably committed to a common course of action.
It’s only when colleagues speak up and put their opinions on the table, without holding back, that the leader can confidently fulfil one of their most important tasks – alignment. Most people are generally reasonable and can rally around an idea that isn’t their own as long as they have been able to air and share their opinion, thus making an active contribution.