Securing Team Commitment

Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

Commitment to a goal or strategy is more than just acknowledging one’s agreement – it’s a complete buy-in. To be truly committed to a plan, team members must have clarity about what the plan is and why it’s the best way forward.

For team members to acquire clarity, they need the opportunity to contribute their opinions and ideas during the decision-making process. By thoroughly exploring alternative approaches, the team can better see, and then decide, which option offers the highest probability of success. This dialogue enables them commit to this decision, feeling respected, motivated and valuable, rather than directionless and resentful.

Leaders can ensure that this commitment dialogue is productive by considering these suggestions:

Seek to learn rather than persuade.
As leader, though your experience may convince you that the best way forward is obvious, resist the impulse to save time by prematurely exerting your influence, sharing your perspective first, and then trying to persuade the team to accept your solution. Choosing this path does little to develop your team’s competencies, to strengthen their ability to think strategically and cross-functionally, or to bond together around a shared commitment. Instead, approach these discussions with the mindset that there’s always something new to learn. Use the dialogue to discover what more should be known so the team can engage in exploring all perspectives as a first step towards commitment.

Sustain the dialogue.
Since the objective of the discussion is to reveal all possible ways forward so the team may identify and commit to the best alternative, seek to extend the dialogue by soliciting opinions or asking questions to identify areas of agreement, or to probe the ‘why’ behind contrasting alternatives, ensuring that each suggestion is fully vetted. Expect some emotional venting; these expressions often precede reasoned analysis, and can expose the motivations behind a given position. When appropriate, encourage the sharing of applicable stories, particularly those that describe triumphs over challenges, departures from the past, or doing what has never been done. This helps the team empathize with one another around shared fears, needs and ambitions. In his book “Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,” psychologist Jerome Bruner estimates that facts are approximately 22 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story that is personal and relatable. If the dialogue stalls, refocus attention on the leading alternatives under discussion and the unresolved concerns or differences that are inhibiting progress towards a final choice, including any sense of threat; employ empathy and tolerance to help the team recover their comfort level and return to the discussion.

Pursue the shared outcome.
To move the dialogue towards its conclusion when no commitment has yet been secured, ask each team member to envision and describe a possible shared outcome for the issue, and what is needed to achieve their vision. Discuss any differences in the described outcomes, and then propose a shared outcome. Next, ask each team member to suggest actions necessary to move from their position towards the shared outcome. More commonalities will emerge, enabling each person to sequentially resolve the few final obstacles blocking commitment to the shared outcome.

How are you securing commitment from your team?

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