Make “Disagree and Commit” Work for You

The ‘Disagree and commit’ principle seems to have been created by Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems, and adopted by other leading tech companies such as Intel. However, it was Amazon that brought the principle mainstream by making it one of its 14 leadership principles. The core message of disagree and commit is simple: conflict within a team is highly beneficial during the early stages of decision making as it helps the team to arrive at a better solution. However, conflict that persists after a decision has been made is quite harmful and prevents the team from executing effectively. In cases where you disagree with your team’s decision, you should still commit to helping your team execute flawlessly.

 Challenges with Disagree and Commit

The disagree and commit principle makes sense and can really help teams remain fast and nimble. However, adopting this principle is not easy. Two challenges I encounter as I try to disagree and commit are:
1. Disagreeing with Powerful People: I still find it difficult to disagree with more senior or influential team members even when I know doing so might help us get to a better solution. If this challenge resonates with you, check out Amy Gallo’s HBR article on how to disagree with powerful people. It’s pretty good.
2. Committing while I am Still Unconvinced: I personally value clarity and logic, so I find it really difficult to commit to something that doesn’t yet make sense to me. In an ideal situation, I’d like to wallow in the debate a little more so I can become convinced, but in cases where there’s no time, I realize I have to commit but that’s really hard for me.

Make Disagree and Commit Work for You

I did a little bit of research and arrived on five steps for improving my ability to disagree and commit. They are:

Step 1 – Ask for Permission To Disagree: This is quite useful in instances where you need to disagree with someone more powerful than you. According to Amy Gallo, a simple statement such as “I have some concerns with that idea and I’d like to lay out my reasoning. Is that okay?” gives the person a chance to become open to your idea and also helps to make you calm enough to engage in a difficult conversation.

Step 2 – Make Them Feel Heard: Paraphrase the original idea as a way to make the person you are disagreeing with feel heard. Another benefit of doing this is that it helps ensure that everyone is talking about the same things. You’d be surprised how often people find themselves talking about different topics within the same conversation.

Step 3 – Share your Thoughts in the Form of a Question: These questions should be about aspects of the original idea that you disagree with, or alternative ideas that you have. An example of a right way to do this is “Have you thought about this risk? or that alternative?”. An example of a wrong way to do this is “Can’t you see how shallow your idea is?”.

Step 4 – Ask for More Time To Research Alternatives: Sometimes, we are quick to assume that important decisions must be made immediately, but this is not always the case. If you disagree with the current direction of an important decision, ask for more time to come up with something better.

Step 5 – Take a Leap of Faith: This is where the rubber hits the road. If after steps 1 – 4, your team is still taking a decision that you’re opposed to, you need to take a leap of faith and commit. Some things to think about that may help this process are:
1. You aren’t always right, and this might be one of the instances where you are wrong.
2. You can give your team members the benefit of doubt because you believe they are smart, competent people working together for the good of the team. If you don’t believe this then you should find a new team.  🙂
3. The more you disagree and commit to other people’s ideas, the more likely they are to disagree and commit to your own whacky ideas in the future.

Any other ideas on how to effectively disagree and commit?


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