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“Disagree and commit” as a way of life


Learning how to make decisions when there is disagreement among the people involved is one of the most challenging skills to develop. That’s true for your personal life and for business: you simply can’t make things happen effectively without knowing how to handle contentious situations involving yourself or your team members. However, a large number of leaders lack this vital skill.


It is not uncommon for those leaders to make important decisions without listening to their teams’ opinions, or to simply ignore what their teams are saying without any explanation. Or worse: to intimidate anyone who may have a different perspective into submission. They don’t realize that forcing their decisions on the team fosters a deep feeling of resentment, disengagement, powerlessness, and lack of trust. Being forceful doesn’t demonstrate strength; it only conveys insecurity and weakness.


Most times, what employees are responding to has nothing to do with the decision per se; rather, it is the lack of agency, of not having their voice heard, of not feeling respected during the decision making process. Is it any surprise that things don’t move at the expected speed? That employees don’t really commit? That despite the great plan things remain the same?


You should model a more empathetic approach to decision making in your company, using every opportunity to demonstrate what “disagree and commit” is.

You should start with the “disagree”, which is basically cultivating people’s obligations to dissent (read more here). When you go to meetings, give people the opportunity to voice their perspectives and fact-based recommendations. Pull those opinions out in the open if you have to and stimulate a healthy debate between your team members.


Once everyone has had the chance to voice their concerns, model how to make a decision. Take the time to explain your rationale and demonstrate why you believe your choice is superior to the alternatives being considered. Show them that you’ve listened to what they said and how your decision was informed by their contributions.


Then, as a final step, move into the “commit”. Go around the room to ensure that everyone understands your decision and rationale. Give them a final opportunity to argue in case they feel you are missing something important. Adjust your decision as needed, and secure their commitment to the direction chosen.


If this is a new value in your company, you will also need to explain what “commit” means: it is a serious decision, one which you expect them to fully own once they leave the meeting. It shouldn't matter who in that meeting explains the decision to other people, the story should be the same, with the same level of ownership and buy-in.


“Disagree and commit” is a logical build on “obligation to dissent”. It takes the best out of the open and honest conversations you will have with your team to build alignment and create an environment of trust, empowerment, and respect. It also significantly increases your chances of success once a decision is made.

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