How to gain team commitment on important decisions
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Roz Thornton, Founder and Managing Partner, Roots Transformation
“Commitment is about a group of intelligent, driven individuals buying into a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree. In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus.”
- Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers and Facilitators
Although it may seem illogical at first read, the brilliance of this quote is its acknowledgement that a lack of consensus in a team is very likely when making decisions about important issues, yet it’s possible for every member of the team to commit to the decision anyway. Providing that the team has a foundation of trust, it will be able to engage in healthy conflict (debate). While this probably won’t result in unanimous decision-making, the decisions made will be better, with improved outcomes for you and the people you lead.
The truth of Lencioni’s statement resonates strongly with us, so here are our suggestions for how leaders can gain team buy-in on important decisions, even when some team members don’t agree.
1. Make sure every team member engages in the discussion
I think we can all relate to feeling deeply frustrated when a team member says nothing during an important group decision, then goes on to express their negative views loud and clear after the event! It is easy to assume that someone who doesn’t speak up in a team conversation is in agreement. However, it’s not uncommon for people to disagree and say nothing, so we shouldn’t take someone’s silence during a meeting to mean that they agree with, or accept, the outcome of the meeting.
Leaders and team members need to make sure that everyone in the team contributes to the discussion by asking them clearly to express their point of view. Simon Munoz expresses this perfectly when he says: “The obligation to dissent empowers people to speak their minds freely, leads to more engaged meetings, better discussion and ultimately improved ideas”.
At Roots we use the ‘Fist or five’ technique to boost the effectiveness of team conversations by giving everyone an equal voice and helping team members to quickly understand the elements of the discussion on which they agree and disagree.
2. Ask team members to bring supporting evidence to the discussion (keep it factual, not personal)
Where people can provide data to support their arguments, conversations will be more productive. From facts and figures to research and results, providing evidence to support an argument removes the potential for fiction in the debate and helps to drive commitment. It is useful to remember that team conversations can be agile in nature too, so even when a team has committed to a decision, they can bring the discussion back to the table with additional information later – and recommit. Be mindful though - stalling a conversation until there is more data can also delay vital decision making. Remember that you’re looking for progress over perfection.
3. Don’t look for unanimous agreement
As demonstrated by Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviours framework, when team members are prepared to state their opinions passionately during team discussions (’weigh in’), they can commit to the final decision even if they don’t agree with it (‘buy-in’).
Importantly, Lencioni doesn’t believe in making decisions by consensus (i.e. insisting on unanimous agreement) because if teams wait until everyone agrees, the decision can be made too late and be mutually disagreeable to all.
The objective should be to get everyone to agree to act, regardless of whether they agree with the decision, and they can do this if they’ve been an active part of the discussion and know that their views have been considered. This is about gaining team commitment rather than consensus…remember you’re not the United Nations and you don’t need to be!
4. Adopt the ‘disagree and commit’ principle
Following on from the previous point, ‘disagree and commit' is an acknowledged management principle which originated from former CEO of Intel, Andrew Grove. There are two objectives here:
· to encourage the team to disagree when making an important decision
· to unite the team in committing to the decision once it’s been made
This supports Patrick Lencioni’s view about team commitment. If every member of the team has had the opportunity to express their opinion and be heard, they can accept the decision once it is made and do whatever it takes to implement it.
Or, as Andrew Grove saw it: “If you disagree with an idea, you work especially hard to implement it well because that way, when it fails, you’ll know it was a bad idea, not bad execution.”
5. Encourage healthy conflict
As leader, it is your responsibility to encourage healthy conflict in the team and, as mentioned in our previous blog on the subject, creating ‘conflict norms’ is a great place to start. This is about agreeing on acceptable behaviours and a conflict culture for the team and might include a conflict norm stating that everyone must contribute to the debate (see point 1).
Mining for conflict is another way to stimulate debate while keeping the conversation constructive. It involves stepping in and asking the right questions to extract more information – in other words, encouraging the team to enquire more to understand one another’s views better, rather than simply advocating their own opinions.
Once the team has reached a decision on an important issue, team members must take collective responsibility for cascading details to the relevant people in the organisation. Each one should relay an agreed message to their people within a short, fixed time frame. This will ensure that everyone knows and understands what has been decided, avoiding uncertainty and/or rumour taking hold. Consistency of message is crucial here.
With active support from the leader and active participation from the team, along with a foundation of vulnerability-based trust and the ability to engage in healthy conflict around key issues, teams can readily commit to important decisions without absolute consensus - and make more rapid progress as a result.