Consensus or Collaboration

Leaders often talk about achieving consensus. If you look at its definition, it is “a general agreement about something: an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group”.

Be honest: how easy is this to achieve? How easy is it for everyone to share the same opinion about something?

Consensus involves a lot of give and take, and depending on how strongly the stakeholders feel about their individual positions, it can turn into a no win situation where a decision is made that no one really believes in.

Compare this to collaboration, “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something”.

This distinction is important. To collaborate focuses on working together to achieve a common goal, where consensus requires everyone to agree on an opinion. It’s subtle, but important.

I’ve recently observed a leader trying to achieve consensus on something strategic where a collaborative approach would be more effective. One of her senior team members resists being pushed into a particular point of view (consensus) and would rather learn more about the outcome in order to make a more informed decision (collaboration).

When you find yourself stymied in making an important decision, step back and think about how you’re approaching it. Consensus can cause people to disengage. For example, one person may think that it’s not worth fighting over and will go along with it because it’s the path of least resistance. Another may harbor resentment, but won’t articulate it because she is conflict averse.

Collaboration, on the other hand, opens the door for more understanding and gives the stakeholders the opportunity to work together for a shared outcome. It gives everyone a voice instead of simply a nod.

Have a great week!

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