Just Smile and Nod

(AI generated the image above with the prompt: A photographic image of a work team of people sarcastically giving a thumbs up. I love the creepy smiles and extra arms!)

When leaders want something from their teams, they often call a meeting. The hope is that through a successful meeting, the team will reach an agreement that creates commitment, which, in turn, leads to action and ultimately makes an impact. That’s the dream.

However, during these meetings, leaders have a limited toolkit to gain alignment. They might use their authority, hint at a quid pro quo, or mediate conflicting opinions to reach a compromise. In the end, leaders are often left interpreting comments and body language to determine whether the appearance of agreement in the meeting will translate into actual implementation of the agreement afterward. That’s the reality.

Head nods or raised thumb emojis are meant to signal agreement, but they could, in fact, mean any number of things:

  • “This is a good plan. I’m ready to make it happen.”
  • “I can live with this proposal, but don’t expect me to make it a priority.”
  • “This will never work, but I’m not going to damage my career by appearing uncooperative.”
  • “Let’s all look like we agree so we can end the meeting.”

What can a team leader do to increase the odds that agreement, or the appearance of agreement, turns into actionable commitment? Enter CADA.


CADA is a four-step alignment-building process designed to facilitate productive group discussions about a proposed course of action. By the end of a CADA discussion, a leader will know where the team stands and can feel confident that agreements will lead to action.

The four-step CADA process:

1) Be Curious

During the first part of the discussion, the team agrees to set aside their initial reactions and judgments about the proposal. Instead, they ask questions about the basis for the proposal and the implications of acting on it. For example:

  • What current situation are we addressing with the proposal? Or what desired future are we hoping to achieve by acting on the proposal?
  • What information sources were used to shape the proposal?
  • Who will be impacted by adopting the proposal? How might they react?
  • How will we know it’s working?

2) Be Analytical

In the second part of the discussion, the team makes distinctions between facts and opinions about the proposal. They ask questions about the risks and benefits of the proposal, and they apply criteria for assessing it. For example:

  • What are the pros and cons of the proposal?
  • What options were rejected? Why were they rejected?
  • What criteria should we be using to assess the proposal? Based on the criteria, how does the proposal measure up versus alternatives?
  • Given the risks, are we better off doing nothing? If we move forward, what other priorities will be impacted?

3) Be Decisive

The team reaches a conclusion. During Step 3, the team also clarifies whether they are authorized to act on the agreement or are simply making a recommendation for approval. They ask questions about their level of commitment. For example:

  • Based on our analysis, what modifications are required to get full team alignment?
  • Who else will need to weigh in before we can act on this decision? What do they need before they can approve the decision?
  • How will we talk about the decision to stakeholders?
  • What do each of us need to feel better about any aspect of the proposal that concerns us?

4) Be Accountable

The team comes to trust that each member will make good on their commitments. They ask questions about dealing with next steps and obstacles. For example:

  • What will each of us do next to move things along?
  • What barriers to successful implementation do we anticipate, and how will we deal with them?
  • How will we share information with each other about what’s working and what we’ve learned?
  • How will progress be monitored?

The key to using CADA is ensuring that everyone is in the same conversation at the same time. In other words, don’t allow people to get analytical or decisive when the focus is on being curious.


  1. I like this model/acronym. Is it your creation, Jay? Would I be correct in assuming that ‘Check for Understanding’ is happening at almost all of these steps?

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