Making a Big Decision? Don't Wait for Everyone to Agree
By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
We’ve already seen why consistently making high quality decisions (and executing them) is the key to business success.
For some organizations, their ability to do this–to pump out good, actionable decisions and then make them happen–is strangled by one seemingly well-meaning intent: the search for consensus.
Particularly for those teams with a high Synergist contingent, the concept of consensus is often defined as 100-percent agreement– unless everyone agrees, we don’t have an actionable decision.
Not only does this not need to be so (even the dictionary definition of consensus doesn’t demand it), trying to obtain 100 percent agreement to every decision will bring your business’s growth to a grinding halt.
While it happens for good reasons (genuine concern for the feelings of others; a wish to not seem dictatorial; the desire for unity, especially in cause-based organizations) and bad (conflict avoidance; weak leadership; power struggles; passive-aggressiveness), equating “consensus” with “we must all agree on this” is both counter-productive and ultimately debilitating for the entire organization.
When I’m working with executive teams suffering from consensus-gridlock, I encourage them to make an overt, agreed, formal shift to defining consensus as a 100 percent acceptance of the majority decision. It works like this:
1. We discuss and debate issues powerfully, honestly, and openly.
For acceptance of the majority decision to take place, it’s essential that everyone on the team gets to say their piece fully, without fear or favor, and in an open, transparent forum.
As a result, meetings held by teams using the “majority vote” system are usually richer and more productive than those of “100 percent-agreement” teams, though they also can often be more confrontational and argumentative. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. It’s the freedom to argue, to make a point strongly without it being personalized, that generates rich discussion.
2. When it’s time to make a decision, the majority rules.
Here’s a messy little truth about most decision-making processes: if you place a firm time limit on discussion and everyone knows there’ll be a vote at a specific time, you’ll get better-quality decisions than if you just let your team run out the clock with endless debate and try to push through an agreement at the end of the meeting when everyone is tired and irritable.
The next time you have an important team-based decision to make, try this: agree on a “drop-dead” time for a decision, set an alarm for that time, and when the alarm rings, if a unanimous agreement hasn’t already emerged, simply proceed with a yes/no vote – and the majority vote prevails.
3. When the decision is made, we take cabinet responsibility.
Here’s the kicker: for this process to work, everyone on the team must agree in advance that they will fully, completely sign on to any and all decisions made by majority rule – even if they disagreed with it during discussion.
This is what in the UK is called “cabinet responsibility“– when a body of people make a decision. As a member of that body, unless you believe the decision to be illegal or unethical in the extreme, you have a responsibility to embrace, support, and implement that decision as if you had voted for it at the time.
I like to think of it this way: when a team is using majority rule and exercising cabinet responsibility, there may be blood and gore on the walls of the room while the decision is being made, but once the decision is made, no one “outside” the room should be able to see any discernible difference in the level and nature of the support of that decision by any of the team members.
If you’re stuck in consensus gridlock, try redefining ‘consensus’ as cabinet responsibility for majority-rule decisions. It’ll transform your business.