Why Your Team Needs to Stop Building Consensus

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It’s 2018 and some leaders still believe consensus being the ultimate give-and-take information-sharing method in the workplace.

While the idea of every team member calmly communicating their opinions does sound appealing, we forget that emotions drive what we say...and those emotions don’t always create rational arguments.

On the other hand, the inability to openly and healthily communicate your point of view leads to a lot of pent-up stress, and anger - the perfect recipe for an unsafe work environment.

So, is Consensus About Encouraging Conflict?

No. People need to have healthy conflict (and we can’t stress “healthy” hard enough) to stay on top of their emotions, and to identify solutions. Let’s stop glorifying  traditional consensus building, and encourage employees to share differing views without their colleagues taking it as a personal attack.

It’s much more productive to have a healthy dialogue that gives everyone a chance to communicate their point of view before a decision is made.

Here are some simple strategies to help you navigate your next discussion:

Focus on Satisfactory Agreements

Ask people to define consensus and most will say it’s a unanimous decision or one that the majority voted on.

Sometimes, what most want isn’t the best decision. Other times, it takes too damn long to build consensus. There are other things the team could be doing with their team.

It’s the leader’s job to give each person a chance to speak up as to why they agree/disagree and then identify if the following action/decision is satisfactory.  

Teach People How to Disagree

Healthy conflict is foundational but most people don’t know how to model it. It is important that people share what they stand for.

What people don’t know how to do - justify (objectively) what they stand for, and how to talk about it. Most also don’t know how to avoid taking things personally. Part of that responsibility falls on the person speaking and the person who feels like his/her idea is being rejected.

Investing in some basic training takes care of this. With a healthy dose of role-playing and strategies on what works, people will know how to healthfully share their point of view in future meetings.

Who Says What, Matters

Imagine a decision about the construction of a bridge. There are 10 people in a room - two engineers, either non-technical staff.

An engineer’s opinion should hold more weight. Sounds simple enough, yet teams and leaders forget this. They’re too focusing on team getting along or on being liked that they ignore who says what.

Some people’s opinions hold more merit. Period.

Set A Time

Consensus building can take forever, and sometimes all we end up doing is pleasing people without getting the organizational needs met.

When things require multiple perspectives, set a time and be open about it. This allows people to pick the most crucial points in their justification for or against something. It allows forces everyone to cut through the b.s. and get straight to what matters.

Shut Down Egos. Quickly.

Unless your team is open for honest, ego-free, and unprejudiced discussions, you can’t build a high performing functional unit.

It’s natural for the human ego to want some validation. Look for the egoic voice in the room that constantly interrupts and tries to force his idea/opinion without any merit.

If you’re that person, acknowledge that you do it and ask your colleagues to call you out on it.

Encourage Diversity

Research proves that diversity matters and it leads to better decision making. If you’re looking for creativity and innovation, make sure the room looks, sounds and thinks differently from each other.

Too much of the same and your team will generate very few new ideas. Growth happens outside the comfort zone and multiple perspectives will push people to see situations and ideas in a new light.

Everyone Speaks

The key to managing varying opinions is managing emotions - yours and those of the people you’re interacting with. Show up as an emotionally intelligent leader and try to encourage people to speak their minds without fearing any negative consequences as a result of their “different” attitudes.

Keep in mind - if someone is being just plain rude and loud, there should be consequences for that behavior.

Always watch for the person who’s waiting to speak and can’t get their turn. Look at body language and read if someone is agreeing or disagreeing and then push the conversation where it needs to go.

The way a decision is made can be just as meaningful as the decision itself. Consensus doesn’t always lead to good decisions so encourage healthy debate. If there’s one golden rule to follow, it is - make sure everyone is heard, while also being unquestionably respectful towards each other.

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Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.