When Leaders Triangulate Truth

Triangulation is a methodology leaders employ which combines inputs in order to overcome bias and other intrinsic decision-making weaknesses. Although noble in its intent, triangulation often leaves its participants feeling mistrusted and pitted against one another.

What is Truth Triangulation?

Executives operating at the VP and C-suite level are “leaders of leaders.” Yet their subordinates drive different functional areas, and these areas may have different motivations and goals. A typical example is the CEO who has CTO and CMO direct reports, each of whom hold a very different perspective on how a new production or service enters the market. In a perfect world the CMO and CTO would be on the same page, advocating for the exact same strategy. Of course in the real world, opinions and approaches differ. So how does the chief executive officer, who is neither an expert in marketing nor engineering, quickly determine which path is correct?

Executive decision makers may initiate this truth seeking tournament, but there are multiple players in the game. First and foremost is the decision owner; the leader vying for a particular decision, approach, or strategy. These are typically functional leaders who own the resources (people, budget, etc) to drive the initiative to completion. Then there are the auxiliary inputs; the individuals brought in for “additional color” or expert opinions. These are typically consultants, enterprise architects, and at times peer functional leaders.

Symptoms of Truth Triangulation

The telltale sign of truth triangulation are new faces being added to the decision making equation. This comes in countless forms: a peer reaches out to inquire about your strategy, a consultant pencils in time to “strategize” with you, or the boss herself asks you to sit down with someone in particular and bounce the idea about. For the decision maker, it can feel despairing to know that the boss isn’t immediately on-board with the approach. For the folks brought in for additional input, the atmosphere is  awkward at best, and hostile at worst.

The Rationale Behind Truth Triangulation

When the radar of truth triangulation blankets your purview of management, it may feel as though your superiors lack trust in your direction, strategies, or decisions. Consequently, truth triangulation if often mistaken for run-of-the-mill micromanagement. Yet there are key differences between micromanagement and truth triangulation which include:

  1. Micromanagement is all about being overly prescriptive in execution. Truth triangulation, on the other hand, is about gaining an understanding of why we do something in the first place.
  2. Micromanagement occurs when a manager (often incorrectly) assumes he or she is still an expert in a particular domain, and therefore “knows best” on how to proceed with execution. Truth triangulation has an implicit admission of unfamiliarity or inexperience.
  3. Micromanagement stems from not trusting an individual. Truth triangulation stems from not understanding the approach.

It’s important to observe the distinction between truth and trust when working with superiors. Leaders cannot be experts in all the domains they oversee, yet they’re often questioned by their superiors (e.g. board of directors, etc) with regard to strategies and initiatives originating from the areas they manage. In simple terms: your boss may be grilled on your initiative, and you may not be around to answer all the tough questions. It may feel as though your superior is fighting against you, but often times, they’re fighting for you. Therefore he or she needs information to fight the good fight on your behalf.

At times, leaders simply believe that two (or more) heads are better than one. Again, it’s not about mistrust, but rather teamwork. It’s about putting complementary skills together in order to bolster the odds of success.

While we should always assume good intentions, a little empathy goes a long way. The newly-introduced subject matter expert (be it architect, consultant, etc) must work together with functional managers to understand the real-world variables and not digress into the spouting of endless academic rhetoric or unrealistic approaches. Likewise, functional managers should embrace outside expertise as an ally or additional manpower versus an opposing force.

Senior leaders must quickly validate an approach, often without the luxury of empirical evidence. Yet crowd-sourcing inputs can quickly turn into a terrible game of telephone; especially if the story is tailored from individual to individual. Revisiting the story of the CTO and CMO: the superior CEO would likely get two very different narratives of a go-to-market strategy; one very technical, and the other very market-focused. Without a common or overlapping narrative, this is where things go sideways. One needs tactics to quickly recover momentum with both the superior and peer coworkers.

Managing Truth Triangulation

If your superior is trying to validate your approach by pulling in additional sources of input, embrace it with open arms. (Fighting the situation really won’t help, anyway. ) That said – you must immediately kill the game of telephone by getting your peers on-board with your approach. The goal is to have everyone singing from the same sheet of music so that your superior hears the same song over and over.

It’s difficult for a leader to understand an outcome when there are two opposing schools of thought. Yet it’s vastly easier for a superior to offer support for a team mutually aligned on an approach. Of course, there are many paths to align peers and subject matter experts on a given strategy. From producing mutually-crafted presentations to using the same vernacular, it’s all about squashing ambiguity and marching towards shared goals. Regardless of the tactic, the transition from two bickering peers towards aligned co-presenters of the same strategy is incredibly powerful.

When strategy owners hyper focus on the end result, they often forget to bring others along for the ride. The quantum leap from “here to there” is sometimes too great for people to fathom, and this allows ambiguity and doubt to creep in. When superiors begin to poke and prod with questions or add new players to the game– quickly define the rules of the game before things gets out of hand. Ask superiors to clearly articulate why they’re asking these questions, what information they need to feel more comfortable, and when to circle around for agreement or approval. Without parameters, the game will both change and go on for a protracted amount of time; both of which are painful, but fortunately avoidable.