Back to resources

There Is No Commitment Without Disagreement

Convincing
Team Processes

4 October, 2021

Claudio Bartolini
Claudio Bartolini

Fellow office of the CTO at Equinix

Claudio Bartolini, Fellow, Technology and Architecture, Office of the CTO at Equinix, describes how one of his best performers suddenly became disengaged after disagreeing with management over the direction their team would be taking.

Problem

I was running a team of eight engineers more leaning towards R&D than production. Our project life cycle -- from idea inception to prototyping and proof of concept -- would usually take around two years. We were at a junction at that moment: we had just terminated one project, and the same team moved to work on an adjacent project.

As soon as we delved into this adjacent project, one of our best performers not only started to lag in performance but would go against the approved direction, dragging the whole team down with them. Their clout and high regard held by junior engineers, their behavior had severe consequences on the team’s progress.

Actions taken

We tried several things. I tried to get them to be engaged. I tried to encourage them to express their thoughts on where the project should be going. Nothing was coming out of it. It seemed that they had some preconceptions on the usefulness and viability of the new project. That obviously stalled them, which was in stark contrast to their previous stellar performance. Before this situation, they were exceedingly engaged, leading the whole team by example.

As I was not able to re-engage them, I decided to leave them out and concentrate on the rest of the team. That didn’t work either. The disengaged team member would still come to meetings, be assigned tasks, and then fail to execute on them. However, none of this was in vain. All of those failed attempts on our end helped us better understand what was going on. We got to learn how profoundly this person disagreed with the direction the team was made to take.

What worked -- as it turned out -- was having them express their disagreement in front of the team. I needed them to step back and articulate clearly why the direction we were taking was not right and then present their position in front of the team. I wanted them to initiate a discussion around what they thought would be the right direction and feel free to advocate for their point of view.

Disagree and commit is considered a given right that is often difficult to put into practice. We give a lot of weight to the commitment part, while often neglecting the disagreement part, which is equally important. By disagreeing, I mean putting that disagreement outside in the open -- letting a person who disagrees have their arguments in the open so that they can come back to it and feel comfortable saying “I told you so” if something wouldn’t work.

Lessons learned

  • Make it safe for your team members to express their disagreement. Incorporate that as a regular team practice, especially in the inception phases of a project. As a manager or tech lead, make sure no one feels threatened for speaking their mind. It’s easy to let a person slip behind or force them to do things a certain way. But there cannot be genuine commitment without an open disagreement.
  • Our case involved a top performer and highly influential person, but it can be someone less vocal and confident. Your environment should be inviting for people who have less clout. Make sure that people know that they will be safe by expressing their opinion and should do so without any fear of retribution.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Team Development Framework for new managers

26 June

Individual Contributors are familiar with a technical development framework that helps them with building products. Managers, especially new managers can leverage a parallel framework to help them build their teams while drawing analogies from an already familiar framework.

Building A Team
Team Processes
New Manager
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

Promoting Interdepartmental Teamwork for More Efficient Problem-Solving

13 June

Roland Fiala, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Productsup, raises an interesting issue about autonomy in teams: does it hinder collaboration opportunities that lead to better problem-solving? He shares his system for promoting teamwork in engineering departments.

Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Usergems

How to Motivate Your Engineers to Grow in Their Careers

13 June

Roland Fiala, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Productsup, highlights the importance of soft skills and shares how he motivates his engineers to further their careers by focusing on personal growth.

Goal Setting
Different Skillsets
Handling Promotion
Personal Growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Motivation
Team Processes
Career Path
Performance
Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Usergems

The Importance of Effective Communication Skills in Technical Roles

3 June

Dursun Mert Akkaya, Software Development Manager at Product Madness, encourages a change in mindset for heavily technical individuals as he explains the importance of communication skills.

Different Skillsets
Personal Growth
Leadership
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Convincing
Career Path
Mert Akkaya

Mert Akkaya

Software Development Manager at Product Madness

Checking For Values Alignment When Considering a New Role

20 June

Tommy Morgan, VP Engineering at Crystal Knows, recalls a time in his career when his values didn’t align with his superiors and shares his insights on preventing this outcome when taking on a new role.

Changing A Company
Goal Setting
Managing Expectations
Company Culture
Leadership
Productivity
Convincing
Motivation
Psychological Safety
Toxic Atmospheres
Health / Stress / Burn-Out
Performance
Tommy Morgan

Tommy Morgan

VP Engineering at Crystal Knows