How to Lead a Team When You Don’t Agree With The Direction of The Company

I received another great question from a reader recently which I’d like to address today. It’s a pretty common one and quite tricky to deal with for a bunch of reasons. Here it is:

How to go about managing change, or “managing up” (towing the company line) particularly when I’m not personally convinced it’s the right direction or feel the direction may not be well received by staff.

This is a difficult situation because there is a conflict between the direction that the wider company is headed, and the direction that you believe is better – but you have a team to lead and you have to get them on board with the company direction – despite not being on board with it yourself.

Fortunately, you can balance this situation with a few simple tactics which start with a little bit of first principles thinking.

No matter what – avoid an “us vs. them” mentality from developing

Let’s start here. You absolutely need to prevent a divide to appear between your team and the senior management / people above you. This can happen very easily if you’re not careful and quite often, a lack of leadership from you can lead to this divide appearing. 

It’s easy to let this happen because it’s actually easier in the short-term, whilst also making it feel like you’re inspiring loyalty from your team and becoming closer with each other. Essentially, you’re allowing a common enemy to appear and you’re becoming closer as a team as a result.

I’ve personally seen this happen a few times and whilst it’s easier for a manager in the short-term, it always ends in disaster in the long-term. This lack of alignment will lead to resentment and your team being siloed away from the rest of the company.

For you as a manager, the impact will be severe because the people above you will lose trust in you as a leader and start to distance themselves over time.

Ensure that your team are heard (and feel heard)

Most of us understand that at some point, the team or company we work for will do something that we don’t agree with. In most cases, we don’t mind the disagreement, but we do mind the feeling of not having our voice heard.

When the company is going in a direction that your team doesn’t agree with, they’ll naturally make noises to you. It’s important that you give them space to voice their concerns in a constructive way. Make sure that you avoid allowing them to vent and moan as a team, without being helpful or constructive. Keep them focused on genuine concerns about the direction and what they believe would be a better solution.

It’s so important to keep them focused on this being a positive conversation about their concerns and solutions, not a rant at the senior management.

When you’ve had this conversation, assure them that you’ll take their concerns and suggestions to your managers and ensure that their voices are heard. You need to tell them that you can’t promise changes, but you can promise that their voices are heard because you’ll be responsible for passing them to management.

Of course, you can (and should) include your own concerns in this if you have them, along with telling your managers where you agree with the concerns of your team.

Share as much feedback and information as you can

Once you’ve had this conversation, you should share any responses, feedback and information that you have – within reason.

It’s only fair to then tell your team about the conversation and how their feedback was received, along with what the responses were. If a decision is being made, try to get a much rationale and reasoning as possible so that you can share with your team.

This means that even if they may not agree with the decision, they may have a chance of understanding it.

Remember that you don’t need to share everything and some parts of the conversation may not be appropriate to share widely, but you should share as much as is appropriate.

Encourage a disagree and commit mentality in your team

A disagree and commit mentality means that you’re free to openly disagree with any decision that is made and you can vocalise your thoughts. But when a decision is made, you agree to commit to it and do your best work on it.

This is a good mentality to have within a team anyway because it relates to decisions that you make as a manager and that the team makes themselves as well. This then carries through to times when decisions are made at a higher level which you or the team doesn’t agree with.

The work to establish this mentality should start long before you get to the point of needing it. So it may be hard to establish very quickly if you find yourself in a difficult situation, but you should certainly try to embed this in the culture of your team as soon as possible.

You can control the “how” and still deliver great work

If you end up in a position where, despite expressing concerns, you need to align with a direction that you don’t agree with, you should move forward and focus your team on how you’re going to deliver great work. You may not be in control of the bigger picture and decision making, but you are in control of how you get there.

You can do this by bringing your team together and reminding them that on a day-to-day level, you’re all in control of how you approach the challenge and direction that’s in front of you. They are working with each other and are capable of delivering great work, even if they don’t agree with a wider decision or direction.

Remind them that they have the opportunity to do great work and that they will get a lot of job satisfaction out of working together and delivering great work, even if that work doesn’t fit perfectly with a direction they’d have chosen themselves.

Overall, it’s hard, but certainly not impossible to overcome this kind of challenge. Above all, keep yourself in check with your feelings and emotions, not letting them show too much to your team. Stay professional and focus on the job in hand – getting the best out of your team.

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