How I Convinced We Weren't Wrong
Mastering Leadership: Algorithm to build alignment
Another article in the series of Mastering Leadership. Today’s article will share tips on how to resolve a disagreement. I will share a personal story and what I learned.
The previous one in this series was about how to not get defensive.
Another team assumed my team was wrong
My team owns a critical piece of the cloud infrastructure, so our resource utilization has a fleet-wide impact.
One fine day, a long time ago, the efficiency police told us to reduce our memory utilization by a significant X%.
By "efficiency police," I mean a cross-functional team that ensures all parts of the infrastructure are running as efficiently as possible. They not only help the team improve their resources but also hold them accountable to make it happen. This was a newish initiative so we weren’t prepared.
That sounds like a great thing to do. However, our system has already been optimized. My team members responded with the correct answers, informing them that we could not make any further improvements. Also stated we had long term fix to eliminate the problem.
The efficiency police accepted that response, and the story ends there. Not!
They were not obviously convinced, and as a third person, you wouldn't be either.
This back and forth went on for a couple of weeks over tasks (email). They didn't buy any of it. They had a point - every other team had committed to making the improvement. So why were we so resistant! In fact, they started "fixing" things for us. However, they lacked the background, so none of those were right.
The conversation kept going in circles, so the whole thing escalated.
“Alignment” approach that worked
This was a complex topic to continue on email. I “owned” the problem and adopted the following strategy instead.
Mindset - Problem solving vs Decision imposing
We had already come across as defensive. So I chose to “re-solve” the problem with them instead of imposing our decision.
Empathizing with them was helpful. They needed to hold our team accountable, for which they had to understand the nuances to break the impasse.
The goal was to achieve one of two outcomes and not be stuck in the middle.
If they came up with something new, our memory utilization would improve.
If not, the efficiency police would have the answers firsthand.
We didn't have any written material on this complex topic for an external audience.
I wrote a 1-pager on the core design of the key components. The document succinctly explained:
Solutions that were already in place
Usage patterns and how they influence memory utilization
Solution prototypes that were attempted but never rolled out
Why we thought we had exhausted our options
A pointer to our long-term project that would tackle this problem the correct way
The document was written for them, so all the right information was available in a single place.
This was a good first step. They were listening, but it wasn't enough.
Putting a face to the discussion humanizes both sides. It makes it harder to hate each other. :)
We talked through the 1-pager and I answered their questions. They began internalizing what was and wasn't feasible.
They wanted to take one last look for themselves. They volunteered two senior engineers. Due to their improved understanding, they were no longer attempting "wrong" solutions.
Don't shut the door
It was important not to shut down the conversation here. They needed time to digest this new information.
Over the next couple of days, they asked me more questions and I remained approachable.
I "knew" that this was not going to result in any new findings, but I was okay with spending this time. We discussed some more options and their costs and benefits.
Together, we concluded that there were no easy fixes to improve our memory utilization. Our long-term solution was the right next step. Nothing else needed to be done.
Additionally, we earned ourselves some solid credibility and had a good working relationship for the next few years.
What I Learned
The Journey of Decision is much more powerful than the final decision itself.
Adopt a problem-solving mindset. Be open to changing your decisions.
Write down the problem and solution space for a 'single audience'. Meet face-to-face when necessary.
Make sure your audience understands how you reached the solution. Include rejected solutions.
Take feedback without getting defensive.
Seek help when you feel stuck.
Get too emotionally attached to your solutions. Debate the problem and not the people.
Overanalyze a topic as you ‘learn and repeat’. Manage your time!
Resolve every misalignment: some are just not worth it, so choose your battles.
If you have any additional tips, please leave a comment.
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