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A key value of high performance teams - agree to disagree

Pramod Jajoo
30th May 2018
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When building teams, a common wisdom is to hire people smarter than you, and give them freedom.

Most people will agree that working with smart people is a lot more fun than the alternative. However, one must build the right culture of teamwork and cooperation in order to achieve high performance and the team meeting (or exceeding) its potential. Having a lot of smart people on the team is a recipe for failure if their effort and motivation is not aligned. Otherwise, egos and conflicts get in the way and discontent rules.

The secret of great teamwork is that every person must respect a decision and do whatever it takes to support it

One value that must be nurtured to achieve high performance in the team environment is - “to agree to disagree”. Let’s look at what this means in a bit more detail.

When you have a team full of smart people, it is a crime to be an authoritative manager - just telling people what to do without involving them in the decision making. The right thing to do is to create a culture where ideas are free flowing, and all the ideas get discussed on their merit without regard from where they originate (eg an idea from the CTO should not be more valuable just because it comes from a person with authority).

When ideas are free-flowing and there are a bunch of smart (and passionate) people involved, sparks are bound to fly and dissent is par for the course. It’s just hard for everyone to agree on things (if you don’t have dissent, then you know that the discussion is not free flowing!). However, if the dissent is not reined in, it leads to resentment and eventually dysfunctional teams. So, what to do?

This is where “agree to disagree” comes in. “Agree to disagree” means that after an intense discussion, some decision maker will make a decision to go one way. The person on the losing side of the agreement, must respect that decision, and then do whatever it takes to earnestly support the other approach - “agree to disagree” and then work on it as if it was their own idea that was given the green light.

Let’s take an example. Two employees, Alan and Bob, have been involved in an intense debate on how to solve a given problem -- each one has a very different approach to the desired goal, and both are equally passionate and adamant that their approach is the right one (and that the other approach is wrong!).

They come to you, the manager, to break the impasse. You hear both of them carefully. Both approaches will take about three months to implement (and no matter which approach you decide, both Alan and Bob need to work on this because they have the complementary skills and the solution needs both of them to participate).

You decide to go with Alan’s approach. Bob is clearly unhappy. If you don’t have the culture of “agree to disagree”, this situation will be really problematic. Bob will resent every minute of “working on this stupid idea that will never work” and his next three months will be hell. However, with “agree to disagree”, the differences need to be put to rest once the decision is made and Bob then needs to work on it as if it was his own idea that was adopted and passionately work on making Alan’s (which is now team’s) idea successful.

Now, here is the real test of this value. Fast forward three months. It turns out that Alan’s idea was bad and did not work. If Bob then says, “I had told you so! This was a stupid idea. I cannot believe that we wasted three months of our time on this s***” -- that is NOT “agree to disagree”! Once you set the right culture, after the three months of failed effort, Bob will say “It was our collective decision. We really worked hard and gave it our best. Too bad it didn't work out the way we expected it. We learned a lot in this process and we can apply the learning for our future work!”.

That is “agree to disagree”, and a key ingredient towards building high-performance teams!

Go ahead and have heated discussions and "agree to disagree"!

Disclaimer: Kalaari Capital is an investor in YourStory.

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