When it comes to leading a team, there are few things as powerful as consent across the group. It is through a careful combination of unity of effort and unity of purpose that we deliver unity of effect. And no matter what the objective, it is the envisioned realization of the desired effect that brought the team together in the first place. As a people, we are busier than ever. Most people don’t know how to just be. We must constantly do. Many times we lose track of why we are doing what we are doing. For that reason, it is important for us to align our daily actions with strategic outcomes. We must huddle up periodically and validate that we are, in fact, properly focused as a team. It is during that huddle that we determine that we are building the right it and not blindly focusing on building it right.

Just as many of you do, bi-weekly I validate time cards for my direct reports and it bothers me every time. It bothers me because though there are few things I value as much as time, we are not paying them for their time but for the value they deliver during that time. Some of us use the amount of time we spend at work as a badge of honor, while others see extended hours as a metric of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, lack of the requisite skills, or poor delegation. Some of us focus on activity, while others focus on outcomes. Those who are focused on outcomes understand the power of a unified effort, a shared purpose, and a commitment to a unified effect. In essence, the power of consent across the team prior to execution.

Any given day is filled with countless decisions. We are where we are and who we are in life as a result of a succession of decisions we have made over the course of it. Some of those decisions were our own to make, while others were constrained based on circumstance; but in the end, we consented to each and every one of them. By definition, consent happens when we give our permission for something to happen or agree to do something. It is through consent that we turn a team’s unified purpose into a unified effort. As powerful as consent it, I find that dissent is even more so.

Though I am a proud member of the uniformed services, I do recognize that a uniformed culture drives out diversity. What I mean by that is though we may be extremely diverse in our experiences before we joined, our measure of diversity quickly becomes physical in nature, and diversity of thought is quickly weeded out. It is for that reason that seeking out differing and often dissenting opinions is so critical to a team’s success.

The more senior I get, the easier it is for me to walk into a room and have people agree with me. It’s not necessarily because I am right, but one of the following reasons:

  1. They either haven’t given the topic enough thought to have an opinion
  2. They are not bold enough to disagree
  3. Our culture has weeded out those with dissenting opinions and/or converted those who chose to stay into group thinkers
  4. Through individual critical analysis we have happened to arrive at the same conclusion on our own

Reasons 2 and 3 are completely unacceptable. I have been working on a few side projects of late, but one has jumped to the forefront. This project is team-oriented and came with the opportunity to hand-pick my teammates. Though not necessarily diverse by the physical metrics many use, the team I picked is extremely diverse. Each member of the team is diverse in thought and sees the world differently than most uniformed personnel, other members of the team, and in many cases me. We don’t agree on everything and we very rarely start at a point of shared consent. We debate, we disagree, and we formed as a team because we share a history of constructively communicating our dissenting opinions.

Our unity of purpose and our unity of effort is not unnecessarily constrained by a commitment to consent. Instead, it is strengthened through our collective commitment to dissent. Time will tell if we will be successful in delivering on our goal: unity of effect. In the meantime, the process we are using ensures we are learning from each other, respecting varied opinions, and delivering a product that has been critically evaluated by a questioning team.

A team must be unified to deliver the desired effect, but the most meaningful effects are delivered by teams who care enough to dissent and leaders who are committed to fostering an environment where constructive dissent is welcome. If I find myself in a room where everyone agrees on the solution at the outset, I figure the solution is flawed, I brought the wrong group together, and/or I am focused on the wrong problem. A shared commitment to the decision is a must, but unanimous agreement prior to is not. There is great power in consent, but the power of dissent cannot be overstated when it comes to informing the most important decisions in life.

  • When was the last time you thanked a colleague for sharing their dissenting opinion?
  • Are you part of a team that fosters dissent or values vertical head nods above all?
  • Are you guilty of group think? Is your group? Would you know it?