Same Page or Common Ground: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter to Team Success?

Like many metaphors, these may seem so similar that we treat them the same. What do we actually mean when we use these terms, and are they the same? In her book Atlas of the Heart (2021), Brene Brown talks about the concept of “near enemies”.

“Near enemies are states that appear similar to the desired quality but actually undermine it. Far enemies are the opposite of what we are trying to achieve” (p. 252).

For example, a near enemy of compassion is pity, whereas a far enemy is indifference.

When working with teams, towards wanting to get “everyone on the same page” first. We think by doing so, it will enable us to move forward in unity toward a better outcome for that team and hopefully the wider organisation or system. On reflection, the way this is often achieved, is based on the assumption that the leader or coach knows which page everyone should be on, and uses their people skills to help the team see that this is the best page. This can sometimes come across to the team as being dismissive of some individual perspectives, impatience or creatively only allowing the perspectives that align with "the right page” to get more airtime.

In The Solutions Focus: making coaching and change simple, Jackson & McKergow (2007) state “When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks much” (p. 180) Now that is a great description of a near enemy. In our well-meaning approach of getting a team on the same page, in order to move forward, we are overlooking one of the major strengths of teams - having multiple perspectives and therefore the opportunity to see far beyond what any one individual can see on their own. The opportunity to learn from each other, have a better understanding of other people's perspectives and experiences can foster a deeper understanding of why things are not working as well as people would like. It allows us to co-construct together, which authentically engages a core value of coaching which is that everyone has the resources within them to find solutions to their own problems and has something to contribute.

What if rather than rush to have everyone on the same page and alleviate the discomfort that can be felt by the leader and team members when there are differences, we learnt to sit back and embrace this discomfort, observing what people are actually saying, and trust the structure that a coaching approach to supporting dialogue brings; that the gold will shine through and the common ground will be seen.

In human-intensive systems doing complex work (quintessentially schools) and where things move fast, rather than rush for a solution, “slow down and observe” (Jackson & McKergow, 2007). This mantra can help us to manage our propensity towards being reactive and crisis- driven, in order to 'put out spot fires' and enable us instead to hold just a bit more space to think and respond in ways that enable capacity building and progress. To slow down and observe, takes courage, a lot of self-regulation, faith in others, and the ability to sit with some discomfort.

Dialogue is one of the Partnership Principles (Knight, 2011) advocated by Jim Knight and understanding what this really means is fundamental to the success of team leaders. One of Jim’s colleagues, ICG Consultant Sharon Thomas writes: “Dialogue doesn’t mean listening passively while the other person speaks, nor does it involve back-and-forth debate until one person can be declared “the winner.” Dialogue involves two people sharing their ideas who share the hope that talking about the issue could bring about a solution, a better way.” (blog post)

Leaders who adopt a coaching approach in the way they manage multiple voices and perspectives in their teams help to generate genuine dialogue that leads to the identification of common ground and the emergence of a shared way forward, whilst also strengthening team dynamics.

Next time you work with a group of people, and find yourself uncomfortable with the disagreements, areas of grey or just the multiple perspectives and are tempted to ‘get everyone on the same page’, remind yourself that “when everyone thinks alike, no one thinks much” (Jackson & McKergow, 2007) and embrace the opportunity for learning and growth you have before you; and offer it as a gift to the members in your group.

As Adam Grant, renowned Organizational Psychologist at Wharton and best-selling author puts it:

“Few arguments are resolved by landing on the same page.

Most are reconciled by recognizing that reasonable people can hold different views.

The highest goal of disagreement is not to determine who’s right.

It’s to maintain mutual respect and gain mutual understanding.”

Listen to Jim Knight talk more about dialogue here.

By Sharon Garro,

GCI Consultant Coach


Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the Heart: mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience. Penguin Publishing.

Jackson & McKergow. (2007). The Solution Focus: making coaching & change SIMPLE. Nicholas Brealey International.

Knight, J. (2011). Unmistakable Impact: A partnership approach to dramatically improving instruction. Corwin.