“Why can't we get on the same page?” Jim asked himself. He ran a tight ship and was proud of his fast-paced culture of getting things done—on time, on task, and within budget. Things used to work so well, but now his team was missing deadlines and he found himself constantly revisiting decisions. He was at a total loss as to why his team was no longer the superstar group it once was.
"What’s changed recently?" I asked.
"Nothing much. We have more projects than usual, but the team has managed more than this in the past."
"Can you think of something that has changed recently?” I asked. “Even if it’s a small thing."
“The only thing I can think of is that we used to have these Thursday ‘Momentum Meetings’ to ensure everyone had what they needed to finish the week strong. We recently dropped those because our new Project Manager thought they were a waste of time."
"So you put an end to a regularly scheduled meeting, and you have a new project manager?”
"Yes. He’s a real pistol."
I continued my questions and learned two things: these meetings had served as a way of getting buy-in from the team, and the new project manager was now simply telling people what to do. His team felt they had little say or control over final outcomes. As a result, they now just waited to be told what to do, even if they disagreed. We call this the ‘Illusion of Agreement.’ It’s one of the most common ways high performing teams move from high performing to not performing.
Jim's problems started with his inability to see the value in the weekly touchpoint meetings. His team members used this time to ask small questions and get clear on where others needed additional support. These meetings served to gain buy-in on projects and they could also course-correct when needed. Moreover, the new manager told people what to do without taking time to gain agreement. The team agreed with his ideas and simply did as instructed; they stopped bringing their own ideas to the table.
Team members need to believe their ideas matter and will be taken seriously. A crucial part of high performing teams is conflict. Here, of course, we’re referring to conflicting ideas, not interpersonal conflicts. Teams need to argue about ideas and ensure that the best ones win. When team members don’t debate, the best ideas cannot emerge.
Since all ideas were coming from one person, the organization couldn’t possibly benefit from the best ideas. People simply went along to get along. They withheld their own thoughts and said they agreed with next steps. Jim was in the heart of the Illusion of Agreement.
Working in teams can be very difficult and high performing teams can quickly become terrible teams. Fortunately, Jim's Project Manager has proven to be coachable and has begun to quickly turn things around.
To learn more about how you can manage your teams, try downloading A Guide to Building High Performing Teams.