Do you make decisions in meetings but fail to follow through? Do you regularly have the meeting after the meeting where real decisions are made? Do you have leaders on the team or departments in the company that can’t seem to get in a rhythm, or even worse, just don’t like each other? Do you have trouble getting some people to speak up in meetings or difficulty getting others to be quiet? Do team members point fingers and say I told you so when something goes wrong?

Any one of these issues can completely derail a team, and I’ve seen every one of these issues in the teams I’ve worked with. Fortunately, there is one tool that does wonders to almost completely eliminate every single one of these problems. Disagree and commit.

Disagree and commit is probably my favorite teamwork principle. It’s so awesome that I wish I could take credit for it, but I cannot. It comes from the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. If you haven’t go to Amazon or Audible or wherever you buy books and get a copy right now. It is the best business book on teamwork hands down. And you can read it in as little as one day. (Really, get it now. You can thank me later.) 

Alright, so what is it?

Disagree and commit defined

Disagree and commit is a teamwork principle that creates space for and dictates the timing of disagreement and commitment. It goes like this.

When you are in a meeting, you have both the right and the responsibility to disagree. In that meeting, you are to fight for the good of the entire company as you see it. I’ll save the rules for appropriating fighting for another time. What is important here is that there is a set time for disagreement. That time is in the meeting with the decision-makers when you are discussing the decision and BEFORE you make a decision. 

That’s worth repeating. The time for disagreement is in the meeting with the decision-makers when you are discussing the decision and BEFORE you make a decision.

While this may seem like obvious common sense, unless your team is intentional about upholding the principle of disagree and commit, I can almost guarantee it is not happening—more on that in a bit.

Commit

Commitment is the second part. In knowing that you have had the opportunity to speak up and be heard (though not necessarily to be agreed with), once the discussion is over and the decision is made, you have the unwavering responsibility to commit to seeing that decision executed 100% whether or not you agree with it.

Now we have the full definition. The time for disagreement is in the meeting with the decision-makers when you are discussing the decision and BEFORE you make a decision. The time for disagreement is in the meeting with the decision-makers when you are discussing the decision and BEFORE you make a decision Click To Tweet Then you must fully commit to the decision and defend and execute it as if it was your own. 

Yeah, this just got real.

Disagree and commit is hard to do

For most of us, we prefer the path of least resistance. It usually goes something like this. 

You’re in a meeting we don’t want to be in, wishing you could be doing the work that really needs to get done. Then somebody makes a point that you don’t fully agree with. For example, exasperated, the Head of Finance says managers need to do a better job completing expense reports on time. You smile and agree with everyone else in the room as you decide all expense reports must be turned in by Tuesday at 3 pm. You agree because it’s true, you should be better with your reports. But then you walk out of the meeting and 3:00 on Tuesday is coming up and you’ve got a deal that is just about to close, so you focus on it. 3:00 rolls by, then Wednesday, then Thursday. Three weeks later, after having been hounded relentlessly, you turn in your report.

While this situation seems harmless, it is creating a massive fault line beneath your team. Collectively, you are making it ok to say one thing and do another. This cowardly way of business will ultimately undermine your meetings, and it causes virtually every form of interdepartmental strife to run rampant through your organization. It breeds apathy and resentment and can bring down even the most talented teams.

How to make it work

Disagree and commit must start with the leader. The leader has three critical responsibilities.

  1. Create a safe environment where honest discussion, debate, and disagreement is encouraged. Creating this level of psychological safety doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen by default. Tell your team about disagree and commit. Communicate the ground rules and then lead by example. For some, this means disagreeing more in meetings. For others, this may mean disagreeing less so that others can exercise their voice as well.
  2. Communicate when the decision is made. It is surprising how often two people can sit through the same meeting and leave with a completely different understanding of what happened. It is up to the leader to clearly communicate what decision has been made and when. Remember, this is the critical pivot point between the time to disagree and the time to commit.
  3. Hold the team accountable. Lead by example. Show your team you are willing to follow through on every decision made and that you want to be held accountable. Then, hold them accountable to the same standard. Do not allow meetings after the meeting. Don’t make your own decisions in a vacuum, and don’t let your team members do it either.

Where the rubber meets the road

It’s usually about this time that I get asked: “How do you commit when you don’t agree? Isn’t that lying?”

I can wholeheartedly say absolutely not. To fully commit, you don’t have to agree with that one specific decision. All you have to do is believe in the process. With disagree and commit, I could always commit for two reasons. First, I knew I was heard (and if I wasn’t, it was my own fault). Second, I believed in the collective ability of the team. Even though the team would make some wrong decisions, it was more likely that I was wrong. No one gets it right every time. 

So even when I didn’t agree, I could still commit to my team and our process. I could confidently say, “We discussed it and thought it was best to…” Sure, this can be hard, especially with big decisions, but I promise you, it is absolutely the best way.

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