We are a society that has come to believe that everyone has to be happy, that all employees need to not only feel heard but that their voice counts even if it doesn’t. As leaders we dislike discord and want to quickly move to resolution and nothing demonstrates this concept better than when a decision needs to be made. Somehow, we have redefined the word consensus to mean 100% agreement, which is ludicrous on the face of it (how could you ever get 100% agreement?) but even the dictionary doesn’t include the requirement of 100% agreement in the definition. Listen up, consensus doesn’t mean everyone agrees, nor does it mean everyone is going to like the decision.
Yet this decision to gain agreement from everyone is exactly what brings a business to its knees. Certainly, there are good reasons for wanting agreement and even some bad reasons, but holding onto this definition ensures no decisions get made or someone finally gets pissed off and makes a decision which serves to annoy others. Nothing good comes out of defining consensus as everyone agrees.
When working with companies, I often find they have consensus deadlock. They can’t make a decision because someone will be unhappy, it’s not politically advantageous for someone, there is a power struggle at some level, the business wants everyone to feel empowered and connected…whatever the reason, a decision doesn’t happen. And guess that does happen? Another meeting is scheduled to rehash the details/points made in the last meeting. If anything new is brought up it only serves to further stall the process and, ultimately, the decision. Now the company has invested more time of multiple people, at the expense of other initiatives, and the ultimate outcome has not changed. At the end of the day someone will make THE DECISION, and people will still be unhappy.
So how can a company gain consensus and make decisions?
- Agree to a definition of consensus. Consensus can mean a majority agrees. Of course, you have to define majority. Is it 60%, or 75%, or something else? Does it mean the majority of everyone involved in the decision, or only specific key people?
- Agree to terms of the decision. This could include by when a decision will be made regardless of factors to discuss. It could mean that you agree to how long a discussion continues before a decision gets made. For example, if you have allocated 3 hours to a meeting and want a decision by the end you may suggest no more than 2 hours for discussion so there is time to make a decision and define the specifics of the decision.
- Discussions are open, honest, and everyone gets heard. For the majority to be able to make a decision each person who wants to be heard needs to be heard and their views discussed openly and honestly without pre-judgment or fear of recrimination.
- When the decision is made everyone accepts the decision. Sometimes decisions get made that are unpopular or even the majority agrees to reluctantly. Regardless, once the decision is made everyone involved needs to support the decision. No discussing with others how awful you think the decision was or an attempt to rehash the conversation or change the decision. Accept responsibility for the decision and move it forward.
- Thank everyone for their input. Whether it was an easy or difficult decision, thank everyone for their involvement and insights. When getting to the decision was tumultuous it is even more important to recognize those involved and thank them for their work in getting to the outcome. People will remember how you made them feel long after they have forgotten about the decision itself.
- Let others decide whenever possible. Certain decisions have to be made by senior executives, and some decisions that involve legalities can’t be made by the masses. However, there are often decisions leaders feel like they need to be involved with or make that they really don’t. Can the team come to a conclusion that is acceptable, even if it’s not your choice? Is this a discussion that can be delegated?
If you want everyone to agree, no decision can ever be made. The likelihood of multiple people all agreeing is slim and, as the number of people involved with the decision increases, the agreement factor decreases. Understand and accept, and help others to also understand that while everyone has an opinion and view and their voice is important, they may not be the voice that sways or makes the decision.
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