One of the most difficult tasks of an empowering leader is to manage a team or group towards a goal. Normally, a leader tries to reach agreement on the direction or decision, but that’s frequently too high of a bar to reach. Better is to seek alignment, which does not equal agreement.
Many of the teams that I’ve been a part of tried to drive everyone to agree on the decision, much like a US jury of peers. Obviously, the benefit of this is that everyone walking out of the room has the same opinion and should be exactly aligned.
However, the business world is not a court room. Getting twenty people, let alone ten or even five, to agree on a given decision is very tricky due to those personalities, opinions and ground rules that I mentioned earlier. Going to a majority system of 50% plus one vote eases things, but usually results in a number of unhappy people with the decision, perhaps feeling that they weren’t understood or heard properly.
After sitting through many meetings that resulted in people arguing their positions over and over again, I was working with an executive coach that pointed out a new way of viewing the problem: Alignment equals acceptance. This simple change has resulted in a drastic improvement in our meeting performance and results. But what does this exactly mean?
How far will you get with a team if everyone is pulling in different directions? Not far, I guarantee. If you have to get everyone to agree on a direction, what happens if one person flatly denies to ever go in that direction? Gridlock.
But if you change the question from “Do you agree with this direction?” to “Can you support the decision even if you don’t exactly agree?” the chances of getting everyone pull in the same direction increase dramatically.
I’ve personally seen this small change end disagreements in minutes that normally would turn personal. I’ve seen team productivity of a team increase dramatically. I’ve seen performance of the organization rise with just this simple change. Give it a try and let me know what happens.
For a simlar, but deeper view of this topic, see Ilan Mochari’s article titled “What’s the difference between alignment and agreement?”