team building

Because I facilitate team sessions for a living, I’ve seen lots of team interactions. All kinds of drama, some shouting and tears, but also lots of laughter, joy, and bold action. Much about teamwork has been researched, dissected, and discussed. Yet lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about an unexplored topic: how to get team members to disagree.

What do you do as a team member, if, after all the discussion and debate, the hours the team talked about a new direction, plan, or policy, you still disagree? What I see happen on most teams is acquiescence – giving in or just going along. It’s hard to know the line between sticking to your views and aligning with the team. Are you a bad team player if you don’t agree?

For a long time, I have facilitated team problem-solving sessions in the same way:

1. First explore the issue from all sides, uncovering a comprehensive view of the current state and root causes
2. Next, brainstorm options and agree on a broad path forward
3. And finally develop recommendations and specific action plans

During the first two steps, team members share their views, voice concerns, ask probing questions, debate, and discuss. I ensure people know it’s a safe environment to dissent and challenge. And then, at a certain point, when we have brainstormed and kicked around options, we agree on a future state. Then we move into action planning. Once plans and next steps are identified, well, I deem the team session a home run. We have moved from chaos into order, from theory into action. It always feels like a triumph of team process and alignment.

Until it suddenly didn’t. At a recent team session, I didn’t like the feeling in the room at the end of step 3. Everyone had dutifully done their breakout work, devising strong, meaty action plans. Yet, the energy was all off. Team members seemed deflated instead of enthused. So I decided to do a check in.

I asked everyone to show, using hand signals from fist to five, how they felt about bringing this plan forward to the organization. Here’ the fist to five criteria I used:

  • Fist = over my dead body
  • 1 – 2 = serious concerns and not really on board
  • 3 =…