Monday, March 2, 2009

Consensus and Collaboration

We don’t have a democracy at work or often even in our families. We try and make sure everyone has input but ultimately someone makes a decision and it’s rare that everyone agrees with it.

When working within a community of any kind or definition, most participants want to feel their thoughts and ideas are valued.

The dictionary says that consensus is a “general agreement of opinion” and collaboration is to “work jointly”.

Can we collaborate successfully and not need to reach consensus?

Which is more important?

I’m noticing how, in the name of consensus, one person (or a small few) go do all the effort and then everyone else gets to veto it. Hmmm. Conversely, I see folks working together well but unable to reach an agreement and the project/idea stalls.

If I had to pick, I’d say that collaboration is more important than consensus. There are often too many agendas at play for me to trust in a group decision. I’m often moved by what a single visionary, willing to take a risk and speak out, might propose.

But then again, I hate to be outvoted.


barsoomcore said...

I think, though, that if we all agree to collaborate, then we've achieved a certain kind of consensus.

To me, achieving consensus doesn't mean stifling dissenting opinions; it means everyone agrees to try one approach or another, even if they aren't convinced it's the BEST approach. Most complex scenarios will admit to more than one reasonable solution, so insisting on "my way or the highway" is counter-productive.

In order to achieve conensus, people have to be willing to suspend their chosen solution in favour of something else that may not be as optimal as they believe theirs to be, but which still offers a reasonable chance of success. That is, they have to behave like grown-ups.


Dennie Theodore said...

I completely agree with your view that in order for folks to work together and keep a project moving, they must suspend their view in favour of that selected.

However, that still does not achieve consensus on the selected direction. A teen following a curfew doesn't imply consensus, but willing collaboration with the parents to keep the family functioning.

The buck must stop somewhere. While everyone has input into the whole, eventually someone has to make a decision. If you've had a collaborative approach, you should have support for the direction going forward even if no one likes it.

This is really evident in volunteer work. Volunteer groups can stall badly because consensus can't be achieved. (Or else you get one 'do-er' and that's another issue)

I do wish everyone behaved like grown ups. But they don't. And thinking in advance of what tools are at your disposal in advance of a stall can be helpful.