Coaching Teams

Surface Silent Disagreements

If you’ve ever worked in a team that makes lots of decisions but that struggles with making progress on those decisions, here’s a technique you can use to understand if your team is aligned on decisions or if people are disagreeing in silence.

To avoid confusion and potential conflict it’s good to get your teams consent before trying this technique out.

Group circle

Build surfacing silent disagreements into your decision making process[1]

Whenever your team has made a decision ask someone to repeat the decision then make the following three statements, one at a time, and ask the team to answer yes or no depending on if they agree or disagree with each statement.

Three statements to surface disagreement

  1. I agree with this decision.
  2. I feel that I was a part of making this decision.
  3. I will take action towards our decision.[2]

The playing rules of this exercise

  1. Don’t proceed to the next statement until everyone in the team has said yes to the current statement. If your team is unable to agree you’ll know directly and you’ll get to know why if you listen.
  2. Listen to the people who say No. Sometimes the person who says no has seen something very important that the group has missed and this new piece of information leads to the group changing their decision. Sometimes a No leads to a Yes simple because the person feels their voice has been heard.
  3. Don’t criticise each other when you disagree, your goal is to understand each other in order to make a better decision.
  4. Valid answers are “Yes” or “No”.  “Mostly”, “Partially”, or “Yes but” are indications that someone will not commit. Ask the person to pick between Yes or No. Treat peoples answers as “No” if they are unable to decide.

When I think of this technique several memories come to mind but I thought I’d share one of them. I was coaching a large distributed group (around 20 people) that got together a few times per year to discuss strategy. They had been struggling with a specific problem for almost 6 months and had on several occasions tried to make a decision on what to do, but they had always failed. I introduced this technique to them and in just under 15 minutes they had made a decision that they followed through on.

So far I have only had positive experiences working with this technique. I’ve used this technique in teams who struggle with decision making and with teams who struggle with acting on the decisions they make. I’ve used this in teams I coach and in teams I am a member of.

I hope this technique brings you as much value as it has brought me and continues to bring to me.

Thanks for reading, and if you choose to try this out good luck! :)

[1]This technique originate from Radical Collaboration.

[2] Examples of variations are “I will honor this decision”, “I will act on this decision”, and “I will fulfil my part of this decision”.

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