How to Build Consensus When Your Team Disagrees on Something Crucial

Every project comes with its fair share of decisions — some trivial, some critical. And each team member brings varying levels of seniority, skill, and risk tolerance. Disagreement is an inevitable and healthy part of any high-performing team. But what happens when you come to an impasse on a crucial component, such as system architecture?

The ability to make a decision is essential to project success. As a Product Owner, it may be tempting to make the final call, if only to move things forward. But doing so will prevent your team from taking accountability for the outcome. Instead, here are a few ways to empower your team to make and commit to decisions.

1. Focus on Shared Values

Before diving right into differing opinions, begin by voicing what the team can agree on. Now is a good time to revisit your team charter (or draft one if you haven’t already).

Set some guidelines for the discussion, such as:

  • The goal is to come to a decision, regardless of whether everyone agrees.
  • Everyone gets an opportunity to talk.
  • Team success vs. success at any cost.
  • Do the simplest thing that works.

2. Ask Questions

These questions should focus not so much on the decision itself but on how the team got there:

  • What has the potential to go wrong with this approach?
  • Did we consider other paths?
  • Are we making any assumptions? Is this decision dependent on any other variables?
  • Can we adjust this plan in a way that makes it safer to fail? Are there any options for reversal if the results are problematic?

3. Weigh the Outcome

The discussion shouldn’t end once a decision is made. As a team, how will you determine if your decision was the right one? Take some time as a team to reflect on the following questions:

  • How can we know early if we’re not achieving the expected outcome?
  • What metrics will show whether the decision added value?
  • What can we learn from this experiment to make better decisions in the future?

Differing opinions are a natural element of any project. What sets high-performing teams apart is how they approach them. Try using differences as an opportunity to align, reflect, and commit to an outcome as a team. Doing so will keep your project moving forward and in the right direction.