A Playbook for Disagree and Commit

Decision making at scale and without casualties

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

Have you ever experienced any of the the following?

If you answered yes to any of those then this article is for you. You’ll have come across the term disagree and commit and probably heard it misused. Disagree and commit doesn’t mean “stop disagreeing with me”. Or even in the worst instance “I commit to disagreeing with you when I’m proven right”. It means that everyone has agreed to proceed with a particular course of action even if it is not the one they would have chosen originally.

It’s worth understanding how large scale misalignments come about. As companies grow it becomes probable that any significant decision will affect a large number of people with vested interests. You get multiple people who are used to being the decision maker who are unable to agree or people from different disciplines (eg. engineering, privacy, product..) with different priorities. This is not a problem in and of itself — but the way we go about tackling it often becomes problematic. To resolve this you have a choice of either:

The cost of all the approaches listed above, except the last one, are wanton expenditure of time on energy on things that bring no value and broken human relationships. So how do we go about doing it constructively?

Know when to escalate
You disagree with a decision or course of action and would like resolution. The decision or course of action has a large impact on either your work or the business. You have attempted to resolve with the other party (or parties) and cannot come to agreement. At this point it’s healthy to agree that you need assistance in resolving your disagreement and that you need to escalate together. It’s also worth noting that this is for exceptional circumstances — if you escalate everything then there’s something very wrong in your world.

Know whom to escalate to
Part of escalating together is coming to agreement on the decision maker for this escalation. Agreeing who is the arbiter is the first step. A good rule of thumb here is go to the least senior common ancestor in your combined organisation chart (this may be the CEO at the very worst case). You can also agree a respected peer who can mediate and make the decision.

Follow these guidelines

Notes for decision makers
If you are the decision maker here are some things you need to avoid doing:

The myth of consensus
It would be great to live in a world where everyone agrees on every decision. If would be great if we lived in a world where people had strong opinions that were loosely held. The reality is the more people are involved in a decision the more likely it is that people will have strongly held contrary opinions. Not making a decision leads to consequences which are undesirable and far worse than deferring or remaining in conflict. Relationships where disagreements are resolved quickly and without drama are enjoyable and productive. Making high quality high speed decisions inclusively and transparently is how you continue to focus on the things which really matter — solving your users’ and each others’ problems.

Ex-Google, ex-Netscape, ex-Skyscanner. Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.

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