What to Do When Your Team Disagrees With Your Decision

Nov 13, 2014
10 Min Read

You've gathered input and heard people out, and then made the ultimate decision  --  but now you've got a team of unhappy staff members who wish it had gone a different way. How do you get them on board so that you're all working in the same direction?

Four of our workplace experts have weighed in on this question to give you four points of view. 

Alison Green says:

Well, first, you did the right thing by gathering input from your team before making the decision. Too often, managers make decisions that will affect team members without first giving people a chance to weigh in, and that increases the chances that you’ll get push-back. So it’s good that you consulted with people from the start.

However, now that you’ve chosen a different direction than they would have preferred, make sure that you’re being transparent about why. Explain the factors that you weighed and why you ultimately came out where you did, being specific about acknowledging the input that you considered. For instance, you might say, “I considered Jay’s point about X but ultimately felt it was outweighed by Y because …”  And, “I heard you, Sarah, about the importance of X, but my bigger concern was Y because…” The point is to make sure people feel you truly did hear them and that your soliciting their input wasn’t just lip service.

From there, assuming you’re still sure that your decision is the right one, you’ve got to all move forward as one team. Decisions won’t always go everyone’s way, and that’s okay; what matters is that people feel heard (covered above) and that they’re willing to try to help make the decision a success. That’s what you want to convey now. You might also say something like, “Let’s see how this plays out in the coming months. We can revisit it down the road if we need to, but for now I’d like us all to move forward with this.” If you’ve built a strong team and done a solid job leading it, you should have the credibility and respect with your staff that they’ll be willing to move forward with you, even though the decision didn’t go their way.

Alexandra Levit says:

I suppose my first question to you is: do you still believe you made the right decision? If so, then you want to give your team members an infusion of motivation so that they will trust your direction and be more productive carrying it out.

Passion is an important element here. The best leaders are enthusiastic - they're out in front evangelizing the need for change. They are able to describe in detail why the change is in the best interest of the organization and its employees.  They counter fear by portraying a desirable future state that team members will want to go above and beyond to realize. It's hard to be critical of someone who is earnest and excited in the quest for positive change, and your team members' anger should gradually dissipate.

Communication is the second key ingredient.  It's your job as the leader to explain to each team member why and how their role is essential to overcoming the hurdles inherent in the decision. Empower them by challenging them to come up with unique and efficient ways to meet the challenges associated with the change. Tell them you understand their frustration that things haven't gone as they wanted/expected, and make it clear that you do value their feedback and consider it seriously. Team members should continue to feel comfortable approaching you about prospective changes, and should know that their efforts to improve operations are not for naught.

If you think you may have made a mistake, passion and communication are still important, but so are honesty and vulnerability. Your team members will respect you admitting that perhaps your decision wasn't the best. Emphasize that you made the best call based on the information available to you at the time, and that you'll need their support and collaboration to move forward. Maintain your composure even if the situation seems dire - if you have a "life goes on" attitude, your team will follow suit.

Eva Rykrsmith says:

You are doing the right thing by getting buy-in up front. Resolving this now will save time, resources, and help avoid delays and conflicts down the road. Though you’ve sought out different perspectives, it sounds like you are still missing alignment. There might be several reasons for this:

(1)    Black and white thinking: My way is right; the other way is wrong.

(2)    Though your team feels their opinion was heard, they perceive they were not fully understood.

(3)    There are unresolved needs, wants, or issues. The decision may be threatening in some way.

To get the team fully on board, go back and open the lines of communication again. Maintain respect for a difference in opinion and from a place of curiosity, try to understand why they are seeing things differently. Isolate the specific area that is causing consternation.

Courses of action from there might be compromise and negotiation. Each individual needs to want to be on board. However, if this is a recurring pattern for your team, it may be more than simply task-associated disagreement, and a broader issue of disrespect and relationship troubles. In that case, there may be an alternative root cause—the steps to resolution are to invest in your own leadership development.

Most of all, look at this as an opportunity. You may still have missing information. The team may intuitively know of obstacles you will face, but may not have a way of articulating them. Working through this tension, asking insightful questions, and patiently listening can bring new ideas or strategies that lead to a greater success.

Anita Bruzzese says: 

Gather your team together and explain that you valued their input, but based upon X, Y and Z, you made your decision. Keep your explanation simple, but friendly. You don’t have to go into long-winded reasoning, but do let them know that you listened carefully to what they had to say. Then, move into the benefits of your decision. For example, maybe you ran the numbers and discovered that your decision will save money in the long run, allowing you room in the budget to give across-the-board raises next year. Or, maybe it will make your unit more productive, and help avoid layoffs. Finally, meet individually with the influencers on your team, and work to understand their concerns and areas where you may be able to agree and move forward. This will help you capitalize on any consensus and make it easier to persuade them to see the value in your decision – and help others do the same. Above all, keep communicating with your team. This is the time to make sure you are approachable and don’t alienate them with a “do-it-because-I-said-so” attitude.

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