We naturally seek agreement, or rather, validation that others agree with us.
Agreement from those around us makes us feel comfortable and satisfied. It tells us who's on “our side”, and can serve as proof that we are right — that there is truth to our viewpoint.
Agreement can also be a kind of lifeline that makes us feel connected and gives us certainty. If you're seeking consensus, the emergence of agreement among a group is a sign that things are going well.
Yet unless we're careful, the satisfaction of agreement can become a cage that boxes us in and keeps us stuck right where we are, rather than a healthy tether that supports us as we venture into the unknown.
Leading for alignment versus a culture of agreement
Yes, for any group of people to achieve a goal together they must be on the same page.
And the shared values, beliefs and behaviors that form the background of agreements are the fabric that unifies an organization.
But there's a big difference between building alignment to ensure we're working to realize a shared vision and goals, and unwittingly allowing our thinking to become homogenized. This kind of "group think" can unfortunately become a powerful force that often causes individual and institutional blindness.
And as human systems, like a government or a business, grow, the more deeply rooted and pervasive the culture of agreement or "group think" can become.
The problem with a culture of agreement
The problem with any system (or individual) that relies too heavily on seeking agreement as a way of doing business is this:
We can get so focused on finding evidence to support, as well as people who will back, our opinion that we can completely miss critical insight and opportunities to truly leverage the intelligence available.
Instead, we build camps called "us" and "them".
The costs of agreement
The opportunity cost of assuming that agreement is a sign that all is well can mean we fail to:
- learn from others, deepen our thinking and expand our perspective
- discover a better way
- take a giant leap forward rather than settle for incremental progress
At its most fundamental level though, a culture of agreement can also cost us the opportunity to challenge and change the status quo. In fact, the comfort of agreement can be what keeps the status quo well protected and firmly in place.
Leadership tips for supporting growth and change
If you want to be the source of a new possibility, a better way, or a more satisfying outcome you must learn to listen past the drone of agreement — that hum of sameness that permeates a conversation and perhaps even your culture.
Here are three specific things you can do to lead the way beyond the status quo:
1. Actively seek to learn from the outliers (aka "them"). Those whose views and experience are not the same as yours or the majority. Listen to what they have to say. If you really want to get the most out of the exchange, make sure you work to get into their world rather than making them work to get into yours.
2. Don't jump to conclusions. Especially about ideas that don’t seem like “good” ones until you've first sought to understand the thinking behind them. This often requires that you exercise your skill in asking great questions.
3. Offer dissenting views and ideas. Encourage others to do the same. And make sure you acknowledge and appreciate those who are willing to speak up with a dissenting opinion or differing view; that often takes courage.
Your turn: What else can we all do to lead the way beyond the status quo and resist a culture of agreement?