Occasionally, my journeys into Agile and Lean process force me down to its foundation: cultural fit. Frankly, there is nothing more central to the success of a team than culture. That’s especially true about Lean because of the humility and honesty required. If your team is not built on a foundation of trust and shared values then it’s impossible keep having the listening and responsive dialog with our customers.
Successful teams have to be honest about taking negative feedback and you cannot do that without trust.
Trust is built on working out differences. Ideally, it would be as simple as “we agree” or “we disagree.” In an ideal world, every team would be that binary. Remember, that no team always agrees – it’s how we resolve those differences that makes the team successful. That’s something we know as “diversity” and it’s like annealing of steel to increase its strength.
Unfortunately, there are four modes of agreement and two are team poison.
- Yes: We agree! Let’s get to work!
- No: We disagree! Let’s figure out what’s different so that we’re stronger!
- Artificial Warfare: We disagree! While we are fundamentally aligned, everyone else thinks that the team does not have consensus and ignores the teams decisions. We also waste a lot of time talking instead of acting.
- Artificial Harmony: We agree! But then we don’t support each other in getting the work done or message alignment. We never spend time talking about the real issues so we constantly have to redo our actions.
I’ve never seen a team that is as simple as agree/disagree but I’ve been at companies (Surgient) that tried to build a culture to support trust and conflict resolution (based on Lencioni’s excellent 5 dysfunctions book). However, there’s a major gap between a team that needs to build trust through healthy conflict and one that wraps itself in the dysfunctions of artificial harmony and warfare.
If you find yourself on a team with this problem then you’ll need management by-in to fix it. I have not seen it be a self-correcting problem. I’d love to hear if you’ve gotten yourself healthy from a team with these issues.
Signs of artificial agreement syndrome include
- Lack of broad participation – discussions are dominated by a few voices
- Discussions that always seem to run to the meta topic instead of the actual problem
- Issues are not resolved and come up over and over
- People are still upset after the meeting because issues have not been resolved
- People have different versions of events
- Lack of trust for some people to speak for the group
- Outcomes of decision making meetings are surprises
- Lack of results or missed commitments by the team