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Managing by Agreement – The New “MBA”

Productivity and satisfaction depend on “clear” hearts and “clear” agreements. When the heart or the agreement is unclear, conflict and compromised productivity follow. Agreements impact every aspect of organisational life. That includes:

Ability to set and reach goals; Quality of work; Quality of work relationships; Strength of teams; Amount and intensity of conflict; Level of trust; Leadership ability

Productivity and collaboration are a function of effective explicit agreements. All productivity and all satisfying professional and personal relationships, result from collaboration action. We often have conflict because we did not take the time, and we never learned how, to craft effective, explicit agreements. The cause of wasteful, expensive conflicts is implicit, in-artful, incomplete agreements that do not solidify relationships in the process of crafting the agreement. This often happens because the process of negotiating an agreement is seen as an adversarial process you try to win, as compared to a joint visioning process that expresses an inclusive vision of desired outcomes, and the road map to those desired results.

Conflicts, differences and internal “chatter” pervade organisational relationships. No matter how good the agreement, conflict and differences will surface. The ability to prevent destructive conflict (dissonance that gets in the way of productivity), and always move toward resolution and agreement, is a critical core competence. Resolution and a new agreement that articulates the resolution increases productivity and returns everyone to optimal levels of output and satisfaction. The following outline will ensure a high level of buy-in, because it is empowering, inclusive and highly participatory.

  1. Intent & Vision – The first step of any effective collaboration is sharing the big picture of what you are doing together. This provides a framework to hang the details on. It stimulates the right attitude and motivation for resolution.
  2. Understanding – Unpack what you want and others want. It’s about understanding and being understood. Learning to listen with a careful ear and honour everyone’s story about a situation, is a necessary step toward getting to resolution.
  3. Testing a Tentative Resolution – The third step is to start thinking, testing a possible resolution that honours all concerned in the situation. It comes from a sense of fairness and may change as you gather more information and learn more. It’s creating a resolution hypothesis for testing.
  4. Letting Go & Leave the Past Behind – The fourth step demands saying difficult, sometimes gut-wrenching things. It is about articulating what usually goes unexpressed and escaping from the emotional and intellectual prisons that keep us locked in the past. It is a way to face the good and bad in any situation and to experience and grieve for the disappointment of unrealised expectations. It is a way to put all of the detail out on the table – and choose those remnants that can be used to weave a new tapestry of resolution.
  5. Agreement in Principle – Having looked at what other people need and perhaps noticing the cracks in your own righteous position, you are ready to reach a general understanding of a possible resolution. This is the foundation of a new agreement. You let go of the desire for what you know will not work, and you focus on what will.
  6. Crafting a New Agreement – In the sixth step you put specifics onto the agreement in principle framework. You design and construct a map, a formula for the dialogue that will maximise the potential for everyone to obtain his or her desired results. The more time you spend in detailing the desired results, the greater the chance to realise them.
  7. Agreement in Action – With a new agreement, you can freely move forward, devoting your energy and intention to currently desired outcomes. You will have a new and profound sense of freedom because you have spoken all the unspeakables. You have completed the past and constructed a clear picture of the future and of the highway that will get you there. You will be empowered by process. You are resolved.


Source: Stewart Levin, McGraw-Hill Sourcebook for Innovative Management Practices.