Too often I see the following scenario: A team meets to discuss issues critical to the organization’s success. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”
Such meetings are worse than a waste of time, in fact, they can actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People stay within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.
Take as an example a successful technology company that was trying to take its game to the next level. One of their biggest challenges – and opportunity – was to get all their business units and functions working together in a more cohesive and aligned way. Instead of interacting with customers with one voice, different sales and services groups were promoting their own agendas, often competing with other internal groups for customers’ mind-share and business. Cross-selling was suffering and a lot of potential revenues was left on the table.
The senior leadership team of this company made many attempts to get on the same page. They scheduled many long and exhausting meetings, but these perpetuated the vagueness and didn’t create clarity and alignment. Leaders left these meetings with different understandings and expectations and every time issues came up and a leader would say “But, we agreed on this!” a colleague would respond with “We never agreed on this!” Needless to say, this company was not going to the next level any time soon.
Why does this happen? It is either because leaders lack the courage to drive clarity in the face of controversy, or they lack the understanding of their role as leaders, or they lack the ability to effectively manage conversations.
True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.
There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out!
Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation, and stagnation.
Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 percent alignment behind a goal that is 80 percent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 percent behind one point of view and others are zero percent. How motivated are those ‘zero percent people’ to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so”.
Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.