Are we in alignment or agreement?
Some of my favorite (and most impactful) moments during sessions with clients happen when the work takes us someplace NOT on the agenda. Linda and I were in a working session with a top team recently, building their organization’s strategic plan. The firm is healthy, with a variety of choices about what to do next and a corresponding variety of opinions. Good debates happened in several places:
- How much growth is right for us?
- Do we have the right people in the right places for where we’re headed?
- Will what worked to get us here be as helpful for our success going forward?
- Do customers value the diversity of our lines of business?
- How will we come to agreement about what’s next?
At this point, I think we all sensed a conversation underneath the conversation. Linda asked, “On which decisions can you be in alignment, and on which must you be in agreement?” and then she went to a flip chart and drew this simple picture:
In the context of leaders and teams, alignment means everyone can support a decision as if it were their own, even if they might have done something different if they ruled the world. It means they can feel good about standing on the same side, acting as a unified force. Agreement, on the other hand, requires a higher degree of commitment from each person on the team. Agreement means there is unanimity of opinion. When there is agreement, every person truly believes the direction, decision and resulting actions are both their personal choice, and the choice of the group.
This picture simply outlines that the greater the degree of personal or organizational risk involved in a given decision, the more likely agreement will be required. The major force affecting the threshold between alignment and agreement is the level of trust within the team. While the topic of trust deserves its own conversation (note to self: future blog post), more trust means more risk can be tolerated without requiring agreement from everyone.
Example: Acquiring a product or company that will significantly impact focus, resources, customers and financial outcomes across the organization would be high on organization risk. If everyone on the team (and their teams) are impacted significantly as well, than there is also a high degree of personal risk. Strive for agreement.
Example: One of the leaders wants to build a team to create a disruptive innovation in one part of the company. A maximum budget is set, and contingency plans for organization-wide performance are in place in case everything invested does not pay off. Here, alignment is sufficient.
Once the “alignment or agreement” question was on the table, this team of leaders was able to sort which strategic decisions needed to be decided in each way. I started thinking about debates we have and decisions we make as a team every day.
Think about one that’s in front of you right now - can your team be in alignment, or must you be in agreement?
About the author
David Morefield joined Aveus in early 2011, bringing expertise in logistics, sales and financial services. Learn more about David.
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