Though it's more difficult in politics than at work, getting teams to agree is an arduous task. In the workplace, when each person has a different idea and rationale to support it, it's necessary to align on one direction in order to move forward. The problem, however, according to various findings in psychology, is that the disagreement may stem from different places. Sometimes it's because people just don't like one another's ideas. Other times, it's because people don't want to believe them. The good news it that there are effective ways to achieve harmony.

Here are four ways to drive consensus when viewpoints are fragmented.

1. Agree on the problem

In one Duke experiment, researchers found that when one party does not agree on another party's solution, the first party denies that a problem exists in the first place. The experiment was focused on climate change, showing that Republicans deny the climate change problem because they don't agree with the liberal nature of the Democratic party's solutions.

Whenever it comes time for your team to share ideas--be it product questions, strategic roadmap discussions, or even how to plan the day--take a moment to align as a group on the problem you are trying to solve. When everyone is on the same page about the problem, people will be more open to solutions that are put forth.

2. Align on desired outcomes

In a recent study by London researchers, it was found that when people receive factual information that challenges their desired outcome, they don't incorporate this information into their assessment of the probable outcome. In the experiment, when people received evidence that their desired candidate was going to win an election, they took note of this evidence and incorporated it into their beliefs about the candidate. But when they received evidence that was undesirable (ie, their desired candidate wasn't going to win), they barely changed their belief.

In order for a team to agree on the best way to arrive at an outcome, the team needs to first agree on the outcome itself. At the beginning of every initiative (and at key milestones along the way), take some time to reset as a team and ensure that everyone has the same desired outcome. Then, when people receive feedback on different ideas, they will all assess it in the context of the desired outcome.

3. Set group goals

Through their research meta-analysis, University of Rotterdam psychologists concluded that setting setting specific and challenging group goals boosted the performance of teams, while individual goals that were aimed at boosting individual performance actually hindered the group's performance.

While it is important for individuals to have specific goals for growing and challenging themselves, it is also important to set group goals around which the team can come together. At the the start of a project, initiative, or workflow, align on the goals of the group by completing the sentence, "Our team will be successful if..." With agreed upon group goals, dissent around individual ideas can always come back to which one best supports the group's goals.

4. Transition from subjective to objective

When ideas are associated with the person who generated them, it's difficult to have an objective conversation about the effectiveness of the idea for the task at hand. Disagreement may feel like a personal attack on the idea-generator, and the idea-generator may feel pressured to defend the idea only because it was his or her own.

Try to decouple ideas from their owners when they are assessed by the group. One way to do this might be to have each idea explained by someone other than its owner. Another way might be to set aside time as a group to brainstorm together, so idea-generation feels more like a group effort.

Changing people's minds is never easy (and is sometimes impossible), but alignment is a crucial quality of effective teams. The more you can identify where individuals are coming from, the more you will be able to get to a common destination as a team.

Published on: Jun 6, 2017
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