Culture Leadership

Team Consensus

Solid teamwork is not about always being in agreement. It is about building enough trust and respect that we want to hear each other out even when we disagree.

In high school debating (and cheap politics), you look for the weakest link in a person’s argument and then attack that weakness to discredit your opponent and win the argument. Teamwork in business is totally different. The goal is not to win the argument and certainly not to turn your colleagues into opponents, but to do the right thing for the organization.

Good listening within a team involves:

  1. giving everyone opportunities to contribute and hearing everyone out;
  2. helping people make their argument as strong as possible—what it could be at its best;
  3. then assessing if the idea is the best course of action, and failing that, if any of its components can be captured and used in the discussion moving forward.

It often happens that someone still disagrees even after the decision is made. Here is a helpful team rule that pre-empts conflict in those situations: once a decision is made, everyone must support the decision and do so until sufficient evidence is brought forward to bring about a new decision. There is no reason you cannot give people several chances to get the team to change its mind—as long as they are bringing new information forward and not merely rehashing the same old arguments. But until a new decision is made, we can expect that everyone will support the current course of action.

A few words on consensus:

Consensus is not an end in itself, it is not the goal, but it is usually very useful in greasing the wheels of understanding, engagement, alignment and execution. To be clear, consensus is not about group-think, or bulldozing diverse views, but works best in the context of leveraging team diversity: bringing out the best in everyone and leveraging the skills and ideas of all team members.

Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks the consent of all participants and is defined as general agreement or group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It has its origin in the Latin word cōnsēnsus (agreement), which is from cōnsentiō meaning literally feel together.” (Wikipedia)

Consensus stresses the cooperative development of a decision and the active search for common ground. Conflict is encouraged, supported, and resolved cooperatively with respect, non-violence and creativity. In consensus, only one proposal is considered at a time. Everyone works together to make it the best possible decision of the group. Any concerns are raised and resolved, sometimes one by one, until all voices are heard. (Source unknown; edited by JBS)

“Team training has to help people understand that consensus decision making means people might, even after exhaustive discussion, still have different opinions about the best solution to a problem (such that a vote on options would not be unanimous). In spite of those differences, everyone is willing to get behind one option to do everything they can to make it work. Paramount in this communication phase is that team leaders must create a safe environment, where people can say whatever it is that needs to be said, with no fear of reprisal. Leaders must learn the difference between a team member expressing a feeling or opinion that is divergent from that expressed by others and a team member expressing a refusal to support the team’s decision.” (Blanchard, Carolos, and Randolph, The Three Keys to Empowerment)

“In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves.” (Buddha)

To riff on the Buddha, it is not about your ego or any narcissistic desire to win, but about the success of your colleagues, team and organization—and its stakeholders. Think about it. If you lead your teams in this way, you will develop an extremely loyal following and do a much better job of building leaders of teams and teams of leaders in your wake.

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