Illusion of Agreement

As a leader, aligning your team around a common purpose is essential. How you go about this depends on a variety of factors including your style, the urgency of the situation, experience of your team, level of trust, and more. 

However, your desire for the team to believe in the mission is not enough. We’ve all been in meetings where everyone wanted to work towards shared agreement, but this intention was derailed along the way.

You know the meeting. It begins well enough, but soon a few folks advocate passionately for their view, while others quietly shut down. If the person with the biggest title has a strong personality (and they often do), the more tentative folks in the room disengage even faster.

A sure fire sign of this situation is when you have the ‘meeting after the meeting’. This is when the people you were darting glances at during the meeting grab a conference room to talk openly. Now that you feel able to share your ‘real’ opinions, you point out everything the room got wrong and why the plan will never work.  Sound familiar? 

If you’re leading this team, you might have walked out of the meeting feeling accomplished. Everyone spoke their mind, and you can move on. After all, you held the meeting and confirmed the direction at the end, right? Unfortunately, what you have is the ‘illusion of agreement’.

Why does this happen?

First, we are not trained to draw tentative people into conversation. Even if we notice a few silent faces around the table, we just don’t have the skills to pull them back into dialogue. In other cases, we are in a hurry, and mistake efficiency for effectiveness. Trading speed for connection. This is a short term mindset and will erode the team’s long-term performance.

Sometimes our personal style blinds us to other’s state of mind. If we’re not afraid to state our views, we assume others to be the same, and interpret silence as approval.

If you care about performance, you need to be sensitive to these moments and commit to doing right by your team. No one is born knowing how to deal with these situations - it’s learned. If you’re looking for tools, consider checking out Crucial Conversations or a course by VitalSmarts. They have a fantastic two day immersion I recently completed with the highly recommend Greg Sammis.

The next time you notice others (or yourself) withdrawing from a conversation. Remember that no one wins with quiet acquiescence. Bring your whole self to the dialogue and if necessary, work to help your teammates feel able to do the same.