Here’s a typical pattern in collaborative decision-making. A team meets, works through a series of issues and reaches agreement on a course of action. They leave the meeting confident that there is consensus and alignment. They begin to act on the details of their agreement.
In the days and weeks that follow, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that team members have left the meeting with different and sometimes conflicting interpretations of their agreement. “That’s not what I heard” is the common refrain. Consequences can include wasted time, poor work product, and — more seriously — distrust and suspicion as team members begin to question one another’s integrity and start to speculate on ulterior motives.
Yes, team members sometimes lack integrity and speculate on ulterior motives. However, very often the scenario described above results from the “Rashomon effect,” named for Akira Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece, Rashomon. In the film, four individuals witness an horrific crime. Each then recounts the story with absolute honesty but in mutually contradictory ways. The Rashomon effect is the “effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.”
There are two simple strategies to prevent the Rashomon effect from undermining a team’s agreement.
First, replace verbal with written agreement. As the group converges, display the exact language of the agreement’s details — on a flip chart or preferably on a projection screen. Simple bullets will suffice. Team members will engage with the language, clarifying its nuances and making it increasingly clear and unambiguous.
Second, replace casual with explicit agreement. Once the agreement’s details are displayed, survey the team to test publicly each member’s understanding of and support for the final agreement.
This public commitment to a written, explicit agreement significantly reduces the risk that team members will produce “substantially different but equally plausible accounts of” that agreement and, therefore, you will have avoided the hazards of the Rashomon effect.