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.'"
Disagree and commit is a management principle which states that individuals are allowed to disagree while a decision is being made, but once a decision is finalized, everybody must commit to its success.
We utilize disagree and commit in our district, as we believe this approach ensures all voices are heard, resulting in better decisions.
One of the best places to see this method in action are district leadership team meetings. Our district leadership team is made up building administrators and district directors - about 15 employees. During these meetings, we often discuss logistical and managerial topics impacting the entire school district.
When the district leadership team needs to make a difficult decision, we follow the disagree and commit protocol by encouraging all team members to voice their perspective on the topic, even if those opinions differ from the group. Once everyone shares their thoughts, we consider if we are nearing consensus or if more data needs to be collected. When a decision is imminent, the group is reminded of their responsibility to publicly support the decision regardless of personal sentiment.
Utilizing a disagree and commit philosophy may sound easy, but some leaders struggle when their team shares a different opinion than their own. When a boss finds themselves on the losing end of a debate, they must show humility by publicly endorsing the "other" plan.
The following are examples when I found myself on the short end of a disagree and commit decision:
Spring Break: I believe school districts need a spring break for a variety of reasons. Most notably, I think staff need a "mental health" holiday during second semester. However, our district has a long-standing tradition of no spring break. When I brought this topic to our calendar committee they were firm in wanting to continue without spring break. Although I did not agree with the rationale, I committed to the decision.
Professional Development: A couple years ago I developed a professional development plan for our directors that included reading two (short) books over the summer. When I shared the idea during a meeting I could tell the group was uneasy. After each director shared their perspective and outlined their summer work, it was clear they had plenty on their plate. Admittedly disappointed, I agreed to revisit the idea at a later time.
COVID Protocols: Early during the COVID pandemic a group of teachers wanted to organize a socially distanced parade. Thinking the event would be great for our community, I was happy to support their cause. However, as the event neared there were growing safety concerns within our leadership team. When all team members openly shared their opinion, it was clear the group wanted to cancel the parade. Although I was saddened by decision, I supported the outcome.
It can sting when you realize your colleagues don't share your opinion. However, saying the words, "I disagree but will commit to the decision" has a unique way of softening the blow.
Next time you have an important decision to make, consider implementing the disagree and commit philosophy. Not only will you ensure all voices are heard, you increase your chances of making the right decision.