One of the principles of successful business teams is the idea of disagree and commit.
It is a management principle that states that team members are allowed (and encouraged) to disagree whilst a decision is being made, but once the decision has been made, everyone commits and backs it 100%.
This is another way of saying that there is a time when it is useful to argue and debate, and there is a time when it is harmful.
I first learnt about the principle from Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, but I believe the term has its origins with Andy Grove (of Intel fame) and Jeff Bezos (of Amazon).
Why You Need to Disagree and Commit
The idea of disagree and commit means that you can avoid the consensus trap, where a lack of team consensus leads to inaction or opposing actions.
Committing to a decision as a team, even if you individually disagree with it, lets things get done in the best interests of the team and company.
The reason this is important is because the stakes are high in business, and having team members going in opposing directions is very, very bad.
By making disagree and commit part of your team culture, you allow all team members to be heard. They can express differing opinions, get their arguments out, and you can promote healthy conflict.
But once a decision has been made, it lets the entire company and team move forward with the full capacity of the team backing the decision.
In business, we are all supposed to be rational adults.
And as rational adults, we just want to make sure that our opinion and perspective has been heard and considered.
The truth is, we actually don’t mind if the team ends up going in a different direction, so long as what we wanted to say was properly considered.
Anyone who does mind that they don’t “get their way” is not being a rational adult. They are being childish and emotionally driven, and letting their ego get in the way.1I am not mincing words here. I absolutely mean this.
What Disagree and Commit Looks Like in Real Life
Let’s say the leadership team has been brought together to choose a project management system to adopt, and the main candidates are Asana and ClickUp.
Some people like Asana, others like ClickUp.
Arguments have been presented on both sides. Meetings and calls have been had. Decision matrices, pros and cons, and cost analyses have all been done.
The final decision is up to the CTO:
She picks Asana.
The reason she gets to decide, is because businesses are not democracies. They are benevolently-run dictatorships or oligarchies, and someone has to make the call and ultimately be responsible for it.
But what does this mean for everyone who wanted to use ClickUp?
Will they just refuse to use Asana, or resist its adoption?
It means that they get on board for the good of the team and company, and commit to the decision, even though they initially disagreed with it.
Some of them may even learn to love Asana over time.
And of course, the people who were pro-Asana will likely become the team’s Asana champions and win over their teammates over time.
This is what functional teams do, and how reasonable and rational adults disagree and commit.
What Happens When Teams Don’t Disagree and Commit?
Here is a real life example I witnessed where a team did not disagree and commit.
This team in particular was deciding on where to allocate marketing spend. The amount was $20,000.
The options were:
- Take the $20,000 and put it into industry events.
- Take the $20,000 and put it into digital media buys.
There were arguments presented on both sides. The entire marketing team and leadership team were involved.
Again, there were meetings, decision matrices, pros and cons and back-and-forth.
The decision lay with the CMO, and he decided to go with digital media buys.
But, the company’s CEO and a junior marketing coordinator… really liked events. It was their thing.
Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was wanting to get up to make speeches in front of a crowd of applauding industry peers.
Maybe they were super-extroverted and unsure of their digital marketing skills.
Instead of committing to the decision the CMO had made, they:
- Started gossiping about how bad the CMO was at his job.
- Continuously talked sh*t about digital marketing.
- Started their own marketing trade show “side project”.
- Contributed zero effort to anything to do with digital media buys, including being unavailable for meetings.
In other words, they internally sabotaged the team’s efforts to make their digital media buys successful.
Why would they do this?
I believe the main reasons were ego and emotion, which manifested as the inability to disagree and commit.
In this case, the CEO and junior marketing coordinator did not act like rational adults.
As we have said, rational adults just want their perspective heard and if it has been properly considered, that is enough.
The CEO and junior marketing coordinator acted like children who didn’t get their way. They threw a temper tantrum, sabotaged the team’s efforts and ground everything to a halt.
Applying Disagree and Commit in Your Workplace
Disagree and commit needs to be a part of your company culture.
It should be part of your onboarding process, and part of regular team trainings and meetings.
I use the word workplace deliberately — companies are places for adults to come together for a greater purpose.
Companies have missions and objectives. They should be free of politics. They are not households, schoolyards or high schools.
Everyone is an adult and is expected to professionally behave as such.
What To Do Next
The idea is simple — disagree and commit.
But it must be ingrained at every level of your company culture for it to work.
Want to know what else should be a part of your company culture?
Find out more about how I can help your business implement principles like disagree and commit.
- I am not mincing words here. I absolutely mean this.
Photos by Roland Samuel, John Schnobrich, cloudvisual.