(This is the third in a series of five articles about building high-performance teams.)

Team performance is judged in large part by the recommendations they put forward and the decisions they make. This includes the small steps that a team makes along the way, and the big decisions that drive major projects and initiatives.

Team decisions require commitment from all

Commitment is clear, unequivocal buy-in from each team member of the recommendations and decisions made by the team. Commitment means that team members understand and agree to support team recommendations and decisions. Teams can only move forward when everyone on the team accepts the decision and stands behind it — even if a team member may have initially been opposed, or proposed a different idea.

Built on the foundational behaviors of team performance — vulnerability-based trust and healthy conflict — commitment enables the team to produce at the highest, most productive levels possible.

Commitment is not consensus

Commitment consists of the team choosing the best course of action possible and getting behind the decision whole-heartedly.

Many of us have been trained to believe that effective teams build consensus and make decisions on that basis. But that’s not the case. Consensus creates artificial agreement. The effect of trying to accommodate the divergent viewpoints of every team member always results in a weaker set of team recommendations and decisions.

Consensus will kill commitment. It’s time-consuming and indecisive. It creates cultures where people never let go. Ultimately, consensus weighs people and organizations down.

Arden Coaching president Maren Perry offers the example of a cross-functional team at an ice cream company formed to decide what new ice cream flavor will be introduced to the market. “One team member favors raspberry swirl. Another wants peanut butter. Someone wants pistachio. Yet another prefers a seasonal pumpkin spice ice cream. With consensus,” said Perry, “The team attempts to satisfy everyone — and no one has to reflect on, or reconsider, their point-of-view. The consensus result? Pistachio-Raspberry-Peanut-Pumpkin Swirl. Not very appetizing!”

“It’s a simple example,” notes Perry, “But this is what consensus typically does to team decision-making. Commitment means that each flavor option and combination is considered carefully and fully by the team. Then the best flavor is chosen and all team members commit to that decision. The outcome is hugely different.”

From weigh-in to buy-in

High-performing teams get people to “weigh-in to buy-in.” If team behaviors are built on vulnerability-based trust and healthy conflict, every team member will enjoy the opportunity to weigh-in — propose ideas, express their view point, ask questions, debate alternatives, and recommend solutions.

When team members have a chance to weigh-in they are much more likely to buy-in to team decisions — fully supporting the recommendation or decision selected. Team members will find it easier to align themselves with the team decision because they’ve been an integral part of the discussion and they understand the decision’s formulation and rationale. For interesting reading on the neuroscience of commitment, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Moving Your Team from Resistance to Commitment.” 

Ultimately, team leadership is responsible for team decision-making and fostering commitment. Every team needs a well-defined leadership structure. If a team is created with no explicit responsibility for decision-making (e.g., one vote per team member, consensus-based, etc.) the experience will feel nice enough — at least at the beginning — but nothing will happen.

If a team member cannot buy-in, they need to leave the team. A person can’t be on the team if they’re not committed to what everyone else has committed to. They will be counter-productive and, frankly, extremely unhappy.

Make the importance of commitment clear when the team is first organized and begins its work. Discuss what it means. Setting expectations upfront will make the journey more enjoyable and productive for all team members.

Arden Coaching is an authorized partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program. Based on Patrick Lencioni’s Five Behaviors model, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ program is a proven set of assessment and team-building tools that has become the most widely used process for effective team development globally.

To learn more about developing your team’s performance, executive coaching, and leadership training contact us at admin@ardencoaching.com or 646.844.2233.