Valuing Relationships Over Decisions

Let’s say your team is debating Plan A and Plan B, and Plan A is not only clearly wrong to you, but it’s indicative of some of your coworker’s weaknesses. You feel pretty strongly about Plan B, and it’s important to your team’s success, so you push hard for Plan B. Somehow, despite Plan A’s clear weaknesses, your coworker doubles down on Plan A, and the disagreement is seeming to stretch out longer and longer and get more and more personal.

It’s easy to get too focused on making the right object-level decision and miss the more important thing: relationships with your coworkers are more important than decisions. A company is a long-term investment in each other. You are trusting each other to come to the generally-right solution quickly, and to develop the skills as individuals and as a group to do that. When a disagreement drags on too long, you’re implicitly saying that the individual decision is more important than the investment in your coworker.1

This isn’t to say you should always go with your coworker’s plans. Sometimes, you’re upset about Plan A specifically because you’ve compromised to go with things like Plan A in the past and regretted it. When the team doesn’t have a shared understanding about the costs and benefits of plans, it’s often because they have poor processes for goal-setting and evaluation, or because the argument is abstract enough that it’s hard to get evidence on who is right. Without a shared understanding of what the goals should be, what worked well, and what didn’t, it’s easy for different parties to see different costs and benefits. Even if you can’t agree on the choice between Plan A and Plan B, oftentimes you can agree on the metrics for success of the plans so that you can iterate quickly if the plan is not going well.

Romantic relationships are hard, but coworker relationships may be even harder. Just like romantic relationships, coworker relationships need a highly positive ratio of positive:negative interactions (a little birdy said it didn’t replicate, but someone once said 5:1 positive:negative was a good ratio for romantic relationships). People often don’t invest enough in positive interactions with their coworkers, maybe because coworkers spend so much time together already or because romantic relationships usually have more in-depth feedback. As a rough heuristic for this, you can think about the hypothetical of dating your coworker, and you’ll get a pretty quick visceral sense of if you have a deep shared positive trust in each other.

Individual decisions usually don’t kill teams, but losing a key member is more likely to. Teams change, processes break, and broken processes lead to relationship stress. Take a step back, invest in relationships, fix the processes, and iterate quickly.

[1] Sometimes you’ve lost trust in a coworker to the point that you don’t think you’ll ever be able to regain it. This is a pretty strong sign that things aren’t working out.