I’ve had a lot of discussions recently about agreement vs. alignment. From my perspective, it’s optional to have agreement, but alignment is anything but optional. It’s a must. Put another way, sometimes in business, you don’t have to like the final decision, but you do have to go along with it.
Let’s take one step back from this, though. Say the final decision hasn’t been made yet, you have a room full of team members and the only thing you can agree upon at the moment is that some kind of progress on the initiative you’re discussing has to be made. When consensus feels a mile away and finding alignment doesn’t even seem possible, know that it’s OK, and there are a few things you can do to continue making progress. Here are a couple of statements that might surprise you.
• Consensus is nice, but it’s not always possible or practical.
• Not everything has to be decided by the leader or the team.
Reread those two statements if you need to. Progress can be made without consensus. How so? Remember, you don’t need total harmony here. You’re looking for alignment. Alignment is critical.
Let’s start with how alignment can be achieved faster by asking yourself and a few others the following questions.
1. What are the consequences of doing nothing?
2. Is what you’re discussing the right thing to do for your employees, organization and the communities you serve?
3. What could be the unintended consequences of moving forward?
4. How can the current plan be improved upon to help ensure its successful implementation and/or it delivers the needed results?
5. What kind of objections can be expected, and how should you respond?
You can likely find some common ground with a conversation that involves answering these questions, but you’re not done either. To continue making progress, you also must be clear on who will make the final decision. To help with this, the following eight questions, even at the risk of being redundant at times, should be asked and answered.
1. Is the quality of the decision important? Are the consequences of failure significant? The higher the quality needed, the more others need to be involved in making the decision.
2. Is the team’s commitment to the decision important? Must there be buy-in for the solution to work? When the answer is, “Yes,” you need to increase participation levels.
3. Are there time constraints? The more time you have, the more you have the luxury of including others and using the decision as an opportunity for team building.
4. Do you have enough information to make the decision on your own?
5. Is the problem well-structured so what needs to be addressed is easily understood?
6. If you made the decision yourself, how likely would the team support it?
7. Are the team’s goals consistent with the organization’s goals to define a successful solution?
8. Is there likely to be conflict among the team over which decision is best?
Alignment starts with some level of agreement, and I find the best form of alignment is usually forged from a series of disagreements and differences. This is because the debate that accompanies differences of opinion allows people to see more than their side of a situation.
Assessing Whether You Are Closer To Agreement Or Alignment
In many ways, assessing whether you are headed for agreement or alignment is easier than you might think. You can reduce and simplify the decision into a two-by-two matrix that encompasses the types of individuals you have in the room. When making decisions, four types of individuals could be represented: saboteurs, resistors, good soldiers and ambassadors/preachers. (To help illustrate this concept, my company has created a matrix representing these four types.) Let’s take a closer look at each category.
• Saboteurs: These are the most challenging kind of people to have in the room because they don’t agree and they’re not going to align. They need to be identified as soon as possible so you can isolate them or ask them to exit the room.
• Resistors: Employees who fall into this group are often skeptical. In my experience, resistors are typically those who say, “That’s never going to work,” or, “We already tried that.” Converting them is a giant leap. However, they may change their mind if they can see room for improvement in a plan and offer their advice on it.
• Good soldiers: These workers aren’t always going to agree with the whole plan, but they don’t want to rock the boat either. They’ll do just enough of what’s asked of them, and they’ll have alignment with the team nonetheless.
• Ambassadors/preachers: This is the group you can never have enough of. Employees who fall into this category tend to agree and align with leadership. They’re 100% on board with the plan and will do what it takes to implement it because they believe in it. They set an example for others, and they’ll likely be with the company for the long haul. One caution to keep in mind, however, is that any strength taken to an extreme can become a weakness. Based on my experience, it’s best to be a bit skeptical of unflagging support.
Some “triggers” that might indicate an ambassador or preacher is taking their support for a program or idea a bit too far can include:
• You’re hearing people say the person doesn’t tolerate any pushback.
• When their progress or results are challenged, they are quick to find a scapegoat.
• They behave more and more like a bully or micromanager, rather than an inclusive, trusting leader.
• You notice the ambassador or preacher has become a “yes” person and is not as discerning as before.
For these reasons, it’s your job to survey the room quickly and begin to ascertain which of the four profiles you’re dealing with, especially among some of the more influential voices. Then you can take the corresponding action to encourage and embrace the best of them.