what to do when your team disagrees with your decision

You’ve gathered input and heard people out, and then made the ultimate decision — but now you’ve got a team of unhappy staff members who wish it had gone a different way. How do you get them on board so that you’re all working in the same direction?

Well, first, you did the right thing by gathering input from your team before making the decision. Too often, managers make decisions that will affect team members without first giving people a chance to weigh in, and that increases the chances that you’ll get push-back. So it’s good that you consulted with people from the start.

However, now that you’ve chosen a different direction than they would have preferred, make sure that you’re being transparent about WHY. Explain the factors that you weighed and why you ultimately came out where you did, being specific about acknowledging the input that you considered. For instance, you might say, “I considered Jay’s point about X but ultimately felt it was outweighed by Y because …”  And, “I heard you, Sarah, about the importance of X, but my bigger concern was Y because…” The point is to make sure people feel you truly did hear them and that your soliciting their input wasn’t just lip service.

From there, assuming you’re still sure that your decision is the right one, you’ve got to all move forward as one team. Decisions won’t always go everyone’s way, and that’s okay; what matters is that people feel heard (covered above) and that they’re willing to try to help make the decision a success. That’s what you want to convey now. You might also say something like, “Let’s see how this plays out in the coming months. We can revisit it down the road if we need to, but for now I’d like us all to move forward with this.” If you’ve built a strong team and done a solid job leading it, you should have the credibility and respect with your staff that they’ll be willing to move forward with you, even though the decision didn’t go their way.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

    1. Mister Pickle*

      I did, too – it was the only one that had any real substance to it. I won’t name any names but a couple of the responses were gag-worthy.

      1. amaranth16*

        Agreed. One of the other responses in the piece said “It’s hard to be critical of someone who is earnest and excited in the quest for positive change, and your team members’ anger should gradually dissipate” – I really disagree with that. Some personality types find enthusiasm to be infectious, especially if it’s a person whose judgment you already trust. But if there’s not a trusting relationship there already, enthusiasm can just appear frivolous or insufficiently rigorous. E.g., “Uhh, glad you’re so excited about this, but now I just think you’re wrong AND I think you’re trying to snow me.” Projecting enthusiasm is no substitute for building trust – and to Alison’s point, a great way to build trust is to solicit input from your team, and to genuinely consider it.

  1. Biff*

    Oddly enough, I don’t really like any of this advice. If EVERYONE on the team is unhappy with a hiring or promotion decision except the person that made the decision, there is something much bigger going on and I think management needs to get to the bottom of that issue pronto. I would say 99% of the time this kind of reaction should be taken as a warning to reconsider what went wrong, not as a time to reassure the team.

    For example, say an outside resource was brought in for management. The team in uproar. Well, maybe the company has a very stable workforce/workload and the only chance for a promotion comes from the hole someone leaves when they step out or down. (I work in a place like this.) If someone from the outside steps in, that hurts because an opportunity to do more with your career just went away. It also means that the company is type-casting their employees into one role OR hiring people that are completely unsuitable for advancement, which is another problem completely as well as an issue here. Either way, when a company without a lot of advancement brings in outsiders for good roles that represent advancement, their team suffers because oppurtunity was taken away from them. (And they will assume the same will happen in the future.) I understand that sometimes only an outside candidate has needed skills, but in that case… a different path for advancement needs to be found for those that find themselves left out.And hiring practices moving forward need to address future needs of the company, not just immediate ones.

    Another possible cause for the team revolting is that someone that is universally known to be a brown-nosing choad gets the job. I’ve watched (at a different job than I have now) one of our managers fall for flattery EVERY SINGLE TIME. You would cross your fingers to not get certain team leads because they would throw anyone under the bus to keep the boss happy with them, say anything and everything required to soothe the boss and feed his ego, and to top it all off, they never did any management or other work. We had to watch these jerks get promoted over and over and over again, hating every minute of it.

    A unique situation that I’ve encountered is the ‘hide-a-creep.’ I’ve only really seen this in a particular setting: offices with a notable gender skew, and sorry guys, typically in an office where the management is male and the workers are either predominantly women or a mix of women and so-called ‘beta’ males. The hide-a-creep hides his creepiness fairly well from menfolk (though certainly some men pick up on it) but totally creeps out the women from day one. If a manager has chosen a male manager for a predominately female team and they all seem to recoil from the decision — that would set off my warning sirens for sure.

    1. Biff*

      Btw, I know that this advice was supposed to cover any big decision, but it seemed to me to be more about hiring decisions than anything else, hence my feedback.

        1. Biff*

          Hmmm, that’s interesting. It really came across as “how to soothe your team after making a hiring decision” to me! No wonder I thought it didn’t really sound like you, I was coming from entirely the wrong context. I’m sorry.

  2. Ann O'Nemity*

    Some of this may be mitigated by the way that input is requested in the first place. I had a previous manager who asked, “Hey, we have an opportunity to do X. What do you all think?” Somehow, it sounded like she wanted to discuss the issue and reach a group consensus. Later, the group was surprised, confused, and disappointed when the manager made a different decision on her own. So much of this could have been avoided if the manager had instead said, “Hey, we have an opportunity to do X. I’d like your input before I make a final decision.”

  3. Milos*

    I agree with your advice Alison. It is always about “why” at its core. It is essential for people to understand and believe in that why something is being done and the value of such decision. Having people simply comply and not embrace the decision is never a long-term solution (frequently, not a solution at all).

  4. C Average*

    Any thoughts on how to handle things when you need to enforce a mandate from higher up into which you yourself haven’t been given insight or feedback opportunities?

    Let’s say the Vice President of Chocolate Teapot Composition has informed you that from now on, the preferred supplier of chocolate is no longer going to be Cadbury’s; it’s going to be Hershey’s. You’re asked to communicate this to your team, who loves Cadbury’s and has been promoting it enthusiastically for many years as a benefit of your product. No explanation, no opportunity to discuss, “just do it.”

    How do you achieve buy-in when discussion really isn’t invited and you’re just the messenger?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you can, try to get more info on the “why” from above so that you can share that with your team. But if you can’t, I’d be transparent about that without being critical — “I’m not sure about the background for this, although I’m trying to find out and will share it with you if I learn anything. Meanwhile though, what this means for us is…”

      And if there’s pushback: “I hear you on that and don’t think that’s unreasonable. But here’s what we’ve been asked to do, and until that changes, let’s figure out how to make that work….”

  5. Jamie*

    I’d only add that if the reason the team had push back was due to legitimate concerns about workload or other valid logistics problems and you go ahead…those still need to be addressed even when going another way.

    If they are already a team with very full plates address priorities, or additional help, or what other stuff can be shelved for the time being. Because it’s really hard to get on board with something new when you’re already treading water…even if it’s something cool you’d otherwise be excited about.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      In retail world, there is no push back because there is no point in pushing back. I have seen staff that are incredibly overworked and management freely adds “just one more thing” several times per week. The effect is cumulative over time.

      The advice below Alison’s that said to put a happy face on the undesirable news was not exactly the wisest advice. The first thing that happens is that your employees will think you are nuts and living in a dream world. Much better to say that you understand people are concerned and “we will work together to make some sense out of this”.
      I think being reality based is a much better route to go. Sometimes companies can issue unreasonable orders but a path can be cleared so that it is easier for the employees to comply.
      I have seen times where the company said “You must do X because you have Y.” Pick Y up and toss it in the garbage can. Problem solved. [In other words, reconsider how badly do you need Y, if it is going to involve tons more effort? Some times the ton of effort negates the 8 ounces of value that Y has.] And there are times where the company is just crazy. Sometimes a manager can dial back a pressure/stress regarding something else that is unrelated so that this new concern can be handled directly. [Not everything can be a five alarm fire. You’ll have employees locking themselves in bathroom stalls, crying OR going to lunch and not coming back.]

  6. Not So NewReader*

    What I reallllly hate, is when a manager tells me to tell the crew about X and act like it was MY idea.
    This is a situation where NO sane person would say X.
    Then the manager double checks to make sure that the people know it was MY idea.

    Now I have two problems. One is dealing with the fall out from actually doing X [the bad idea]. And the second problem is “NSNR, we know that did not come from you because that is insane.”
    My goose is cooked.

    1. Mister Pickle*

      I feel for you. My company has a policy on “opacity”: if you’re a manager, you’re supposed to own whatever policies come down from on high. In my experience, this only happens rarely. I mean, managers will enforce stuff if they have to, and they wont say “hey, complain to so-and-so, it was their idea”, but only the crap managers will try to piss on your leg and tell you “it’s raining, it’s raining! Hallelujah!”

  7. Amy*

    I used to work for someone who seemed to consult us only to be able to say she had. It seemed like a perfunctory exercise so she could tell her boss that she’d done it, then she went ahead and did what she wanted. I never saw any evidence that she incorporated any of our ideas when these consultations happened.

    1. Mister Pickle*

      There’s another version of this that is worse: they consult you, and then take credit for your ideas.

  8. Brian Robben*

    Reading stuff like this makes me appreciate being an entrepreneur and not having to answer to anyone! I do miss the social aspect of team members though.

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