Drifting into Consensus

Consensus is the right approach for some decisions. It ensures that everyone is on the same page, preventing any misunderstandings or disagreements down the line. You don’t want, for example, to think you’ve adopted a working agreement on your team only to have someone say later, “That’s not my working agreement. I didn’t agree to that.” Likewise, a Scrum team committing to a sprint backlog—everyone should be on board with the team’s shared commitment.

Finish bannerThere’s a tendency in the Agile world to use consensus as the default—it feels more human-centric, more kind. Unfortunately, relying on consensus as the default approach can lead to sluggishness and sap the team’s energy and creativity, hindering progress and innovation.

We were recently coaching some members of a leadership team at a client. A few months back, we’d facilitated our Leadership Team Launch workshop to help that team get started well. Part of the team launch is a session on deciding how to decide in which we emphasize the importance of consciously choosing decision-making methods, including when to use consensus and when to explore other avenues.

Unfortunately, over time, this team fell into the habit of defaulting to consensus for all decisions. The consequences were evident—sluggish meetings, waning engagement, and stifled creativity.

Increase Your Decision-Making Range

Has your team drifted into consensus as the default? To increase your decision-making range try this…

The next time something comes up that could become a consensus decision, pause and consider whether it truly needs to be a collective decision. If it doesn’t, try inviting someone in the group to take ownership of the decision while seeking advice from others. Engage in a constructive discussion to provide this individual with the advice they need to make an informed choice.

Note that’s it’s critical to support the designated decision-maker, even if the outcome isn’t what you would choose or turns out to be a mistake. Punish someone for owning a decision and taking a risk, and you’ll have a hard time getting anyone to step up in the future.

Start by applying this approach to lower-stakes decisions, which can easily be reversed if necessary. Gradually, you’ll discover that many matters can be entrusted to each team member, and you’ll learn how to give useful advice to each other, reducing the need for exhaustive group deliberations and facilitating smoother, more efficient decision-making processes.

Remember, the goal is not to abandon consensus entirely, but rather to strike a balance between collective agreement and empowering individuals to make informed choices for the benefit of the team as a whole. This shift will enhance your team’s agility, enabling them to make decisions more swiftly and nurture a culture of trust, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.

Interested in learning more about effectively engaging your team? Join us for a half-day workshop on Aug 22 to learn the essential skills and tools needed to facilitate more confidently and effectively. Learn more here.

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