“Agree to disagree” is often used to end an argument when you can’t find any sort of compromise. For me, in the past it usually meant I would tolerate this person’s opinion, but would secretly judge them as wrong and of inferior intellect for the rest of time.
But this phrase doesn’t have to be a dead end. In fact, you can actually use it to foster openness and transparency if you use the right approach.
If your team has ambitious goals, there are bound to be disagreements on the best path forward. It happens for us at Kintone all the time. And that’s completely expected. Teams with diverse perspectives are actually more creative, so here are a few tips to help cultivate a more transparent culture without hindering your decision-making or stirring up any bad blood.
1. Encourage open and honest discussions
This might seem easier said than done, but following the rest of the tips below will also help with this overarching one.
In my own experience, grudges often form when things are left unsaid. For example, a manager will run a meeting with the team and share, “This change is happening. Here’s how it will go.” Maybe one or two people will ask questions. Some might be skeptical about the change, but will nod along with the rest of the team, not wanting to rock the boat.
Then, there’s the “meeting after the meeting,” where the real opinions come out. This might happen in private chat messages or on an email thread. But many times, the skeptics (who might have some important and useful questions and concerns) don’t feel comfortable voicing those opinions. So how do you get people to share their thoughts out in the open?
One reason people may not want to share their thoughts is if they’re used to having their concerns dismissed without any real consideration. Showing how their feedback is being implemented is crucial. And if your leaders and managers are transparent and honest even when it might not paint them in the best light (for example, by admitting when they’ve made a mistake or if they don’t know if something will work), it’ll encourage the rest of your team to do the same.
Offer various feedback channels.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t love asking questions in large group settings, and I’m much more articulate in writing. Providing different ways for people to share their thoughts will make it easier for the more soft spoken members of your team to feel heard. At Kintone, we love surveys (anonymity optional) and use them all the time to get feedback on more sensitive subjects. We also run KPTs (Keep/Problem/Try) after projects and events to flag issues and find ways to keep improving.
2. Back your ideas up with data
Everyone’s got opinions, but without data to back them up, it’s hard to discern what’s right. When our team is stuck on how to approach something, we try to make decisions grounded in cold, hard data. And “this is the way we’ve done it in the past” doesn’t count.
Decision making isn’t the only thing that benefits from a little data. When someone doesn’t agree with you about something, it’s easy to get a little emotional (at least for me). Basing our discussions around research and numbers helps keep the emotion out of it.
3. When in doubt, test it out
And when there is no data pointing you in the right direction, set up a test to collect it. Our team loves testing new ideas and trying new things. We’ll run tests on things for a couple hours, days, months, etc. And there have been so many cases where the results were the exact opposite of what we’d expected. It can seem like a lot of work, but afterwards you can feel confident that you’re moving in the right direction.
At Kintone, we’re all about Kaizen, or “continuous improvement,” so the testing and tweaking is never really done. Onwards and upwards!
4. Disagree and commit
I can’t take credit for this one. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Salesforce shared it as his best tip for moving teams along when they can’t agree on something:
“This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there's no consensus, it's helpful to say, "Look, I know we disagree on this, but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?"
Not “disagree, but commit.” It’s “disagree and commit.”
Let’s say you voiced your opinion, but whoever is leading the project decides to go in the opposite direction. Instead of begrudgingly agreeing and then complaining about it behind closed doors (something I have been guilty of in the past), just commit to giving it a try. Actively commit to trying to make it work. Hopefully you’ll be surprised by the end result.
5. No grudges, no hard feelings
We have a couple strong personalities on our team, and because we emphasize transparent communication in our culture, discussions can get a little heated. Let’s just say a few of us don’t have that fear of rocking the boat. You want those people on your team though, because they often say what others are thinking but don’t feel comfortable saying. But after a lively and sometimes heated discussion, we go back to being a team.
It never feels good to have your idea shot down or to find out that your hypothesis was very, very wrong. It’s easy to mix in emotions and pride of ownership, but try to keep your goals top of mind. Ultimately, you and the rest of the team have the same goals, and you want the project and your teamwork overall to end in success.
If you’ve got other tips to build a culture of transparency and openness, we’d love to hear them! Please share in the comment section below.
Want to learn more about how we use transparent communication to bring our team closer together at Kintone? Read our other post on “How to Improve Your Company Culture Through Conflict.”