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Managing Agreement



Agreement is a powerful thing. Managing agreement can be as tricky as managing conflict.

I was sitting in on a project kick off meeting recently. The project sponsor was throwing out ideas and people were taking actions. One of the actions taken was to perform a fairly large piece of analysis. The project lead agreed the action and the owner gave a commit date and there was general agreement voiced that this would be a good piece of work. I wasn’t 100% sure where it fitted in but the team seemed to be commited.

A couple of days later I was talking with the Analyst and she was really struggling  to make sense of the piece of work. It didn’t seem to answer any questions or progress the project.  She agreed at the meeting because everyone else had been so positive. Besides the sponsor and project lead had been so enthusiastic.

It happened that I was also meeting with the Project lead that morning. So I asked about the piece of analysis and how it fitted in. It turned out that the project leader had agreed because it was the sponsors idea and that the analyst and the rest of the team had been so positive in repsonse that it only seemed right to incorporate it. No, it didn’t really fit or help the project but the agreement seemed so strong.

I knew where this was going so I called up the project sponsor. Turns out he was only making a suggestion as he knew it was something that could be done and that the analyst would be capable of it. Certainly if it wasn’t going to add value it shouldn’t be done.

So everyone agreed to do something that no one really saw any value in.

Jerry Harvey calls this The Abilene Paradox. When agreement over rides the true feelings of the members of a group and causes waste in terms of time and resources and sometimes bad feelings and later conflict.

The second thing to note is the truism that:

the higher you go in an organisation the more your suggestions become orders.

A leader should always be careful about agreement that conflicts with their instincts or with data. Sometimes a little testing can go a long way.

Even if there seems to be agreement, even if the sponsor is on board it is the role of the leader sometimes to say “I don’t understand”

That might seem difficult to admit if everyone else has “got it” but a true leader isn’t looking for consensus but is looking for the right way to go.

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The Author:

I have been a Manufacturing Engineer, a Product Designer, a Program manager, Innovator, a trainer & coach and an Intellectual Property Strategist. I am now a Business Strategist with a generous helping of IP on the side. I blog about Innovation and Innovation in Ireland on Innovationchef.com. Stuff I am into Innovation, TRIZ, Patent research, Intellectual Property strategy, Neuro Linguistic Programming, personal and whole organisational change, Appreciative Inquiry, Ayurveda http://innovationchef.com

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  • irialofarrell

    Are you sure you're not writing a Monty Python sketch? Or a follow-up to Heller's Catch-22? Hilarious :)

  • irialofarrell

    Are you sure you're not writing a Monty Python sketch? Or a follow-up to Heller's Catch-22? You're post is both hilarious :) and illuminating. Definitely something to watch out for.