In 2017, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent the following letter to shareholders in regard to an Amazon Studios original production:
"I disagree and commit all the time. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren't that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with 'I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we've ever made.' Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment."
Disagree and commit is a philosophy we practice in our school district. We believe it is important everyone has an opportunity to provide their opinion on a decision. Only after everyone has been given a chance to present their perspective are we ready to make a decision. When we use this approach, our staff members realize their opinion may not be shared by others. However, they must be willing to publicly support a decision once they leave that meeting.
As leaders, we must realize using a disagree and commit philosophy is not always easy. We must be humble enough to know we will not always get our way. While this sounds simple, in the heat of the moment not getting our way on a decision can be hard to swallow.
Here are three examples when I didn't share the same opinion as others and had to be willing to disagree and commit to a decision:
I firmly believe school districts need a spring break for a variety of reasons. Most notably, I believe staff receive a much needed psychological boost by having this break in the middle of second semester. However, the members of our calendar committee share a different opinion and are not in favor of having a spring break. Eventually it was determined we would continue to operate without a spring break. Although I did not see eye to eye with the group, I had to be willing to disagree and commit to not having spring break.
I went into a meeting with our directors last summer excited for them to do some professional development reading over the summer. I presented the idea to them and could immediately tell this additional work was something that made them uneasy. I allowed everyone to share their opinion and quickly realized how much other work was currently on their plate. I could sense I was the only person who believed reading would be a beneficial use of time. Although I was bummed, I agreed to disagree and commit to an alternative professional development option for our directors.
More recently, I really wanted have a staff parade for our students during the COVID-19 school closure. We had a couple teachers who demonstrated great leadership in getting a parade planned for our community, and over 50 staff members were planning to participate. However, after talking with our leadership team I could tell there were growing concerns about student safety during the event. After all team members shared their opinion, it was clear the group believed it was best to cancel the parade. I told them while I was disappointed the parade would not take place, I respected their opinion and was willing disagree and commit to cancelling the event.
As a leader, it stings a bit when you realize your direct reports don't agree with our opinion. However, practicing a disagree and commit philosophy can soften the blow when things don't go your way. Saying the words "I disagree but will commit to the decision" has a unique way of putting you at ease about the outcome.
I encourage all leaders to try out the disagree and commit philosophy in their organizations. You might lose a few battles when others disagree with your opinion, but you will win the war of everyone leaving a meeting committed to a decision.
Looking for a great book covering the disagree and commit philosophy? Consider reading It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hans