Solve the Frustration of Team Decision-Making
Can we please make a decision and move on?
Ineffective teams don’t know how to make consensus decisions.
Margaret Thatcher complained of consensus:
“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
7 negatives of consensus decision-making:
- Lots of talk – nothing done.
- Talkers and power players dominate weak, passive, or quiet members.
- One negative person holds the team hostage. Some people feel most powerful when they disagree.
- Personal agendas distract from real issues.
- Decisions that address every concern feel lukewarm at best.
- Ambiguous accountability. If things fall through the cracks who is held accountable?
- Turbulent environments call for rapid response.
5 positives of consensus decision-making:
- Silo breaking.
- Diverse perspectives provide broad understanding. You won’t say, “Oh! We didn’t think of that.”
- Achieve the greatest benefit for the greatest number of stakeholders.
- Minimize surprises.
5 reasons consensus matters:
- Multiple entities, divisions, or departments are impacted.
- Authority is low. Distrust is high.
- Radical change disrupts large groups.
- Financial responsibility runs high.
- Buy-in is necessary.
- Diversity. Include stakeholders who are touched by the problem and those closest to the action.
- Shared information.
- After discussion, ask, “Is there anything preventing us from making a decision right now?
- Open eyes and expand perspectives by sending participants into each other’s areas.
- Assign homework and research.
- Ask participants to defend each others suggestions.
How much consensus is enough:
Don’t beat dead horses. Determine how much consensus is enough.
Perfect consensus is a myth! Shoot for informed consent.
Download the Team Decision Making Tool.
Note: My coach, Bob Hancox, sent me the team decision-making tool. The origin is uncertain.
What are your warnings and suggestions concerning consensus decision-making?
Wow Dan, Nice!
One of the warning signs to me is when you ask a question and there is complete silence, similar to pulling teeth! Better yet you want suggestions and no one responds! Sometimes you just have to make your best experienced judgement for the good of the group to keep things moving! I have seen on more often times you have to stick to the agenda, push through, or you will never get anything accomplished.
Happy Friday! Cheers….
Thanks Tim. The “tooth-pulling” problem is pretty common. Finding ways to make it safe to contribute is an important job for team leaders.
Yes Dan, We do need to make it safe to contribute, encouragement helps, although individuals sometimes prefer to stand back for fear of conflicts, which may have developed over bad experiences which goes back to following your 7 necessities.
I’ve seen a visual that shows when a decision method should move from authoritarian to consensus based on how many people the change affects and how big the change is. I’ll find it later today at work and upload a pic of it to share.
Did you find your visual??? I would be very interested in seeing that.
I think the table rubric is useful for team members. However, I fall more in Patrick Lencione’s camp. He emphasizes the importance of allowing every team member to weigh in with their thoughts and concerns, but, in the end, the leader has the responsibility and authority to make the final decision. If you find yourself consistently in the bottom three categories of the table, it may be time to find a new team.
Thanks Jeff. This style views teams as advisers and subject matter experts. It’s useful and one way to make decisions. Like consensus, it has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps organizational culture and the context of the decision are controlling factors.
Most excellent and interesting timing, since I am packaging up some thoughts on strategy implementation through discussion and the generation of ownership. This one hits the nail squarely on the head, with little wasted motion.
But please do let me know how to attribute this, to you, Bob or the Universal Team Builder and Consensus Maker.
Thanks Scott. It’s a pleasure to serve. Attribution is “someone” but not sure who. I modified the wording. Best I can say is let everyone know that it comes from somewhere.
There is an art and a science to decision-making. Leaders should seek consensus when the positives outweigh the negatives. Consensus should not be used as a way to remove personal accountability. Consensus should not be used to avoid the angst of making hard decisions, or the pain of selling a change in direction. Consensus should not be imposed explicitly or culturally, i.e. dissent should be welcomed, if it is motivated by desire to advance the group’s mission.
Consensus requires time and money to be spent before making the decision, but generally speeds execution. It often results in incremental advances rather than breakthroughs, and when it does promote a radical idea, that idea needs to be tested carefully for groupthink by external validation.
Good post, Dan, on a very relevant subject.
Thanks Marc. I find the problem of accountability and responsibility two huge challenges to consensus decision-making.
Ownership of consensus decisions doesn’t mean much if execution falls short.
Good morning Dan;
Reaching a mutual (unified), consensus is a noteworthy endeavor. Realistically, total agreement where decision making is concerned is a rarity.
For me ‘ACTION’ is the key word to Team Decision Making. Meetings that result in ‘no’ action are a waste of time and finances.
Assemble a diversified group of some of the best people you have. Concider all departments involved so that each can particapate. Set clear
obtainable goals at the onset of the meeting. Focus on discussion that leads to decision making. Banter that does NOT solve problems, or, address
the issue at hand, should be abanded and remain on the topic at hand. Once a plan is formulated, open the floor to debate & critisisms,
tweak and refine where nesassary and then “PUT YOUR PLAN INTO ACTION”.
Busy day today my freind, gota go.
“Cheers & Happy Friday Dan”!
Excellent emphasis on ACTION, Steve. Kotter’s book, “A Sense of Urgency” is a good complement. Complacency comes from social loafing and lack of purpose. Action needs to be focused on the group’s mission. One of the most useful actions possible is to stop doing anything that isn’t immediately vital to the mission or building capacity for the next phase(s) of the mission.
Thanks for the kind comments and especially for the book recomendation. I am familiar with Kotter’s
work from my College day’s at PSU, (a L O N G time ago).
Thanks Steve. I’m fully on your team. Of course those of us who focus on action might short-circuit the process which may feel too slow.
I’ve also seen value in letting the conversation go astray a bit. It allows people to connect. (I can’t believe I just typed that)
Perhaps its important for teams to negotiate the way they negotiate and see the value in connecting with people around the table
Agree…the dialogue and disagreement is the point (wandering conversation) to achieve buy-in. Experienced it this week Dan, as the team “connections” led to transparency which led to “team trust”. Great work Dan.
Dialogue is good. If for no other reason, it involves everyone. Which results in people feeling they are a part
of the team and the solution. “Just don’t stray to far off the path and get lost”!!!
On reflecting a bit more about this, and working on adding some ideas to the framework, my thought is that we do not want “immediate, pure and complete acceptance” of ideas. I can think of a few TV shows where some stupid idea was put forth with little discussion and off they went…
Stan, in South Park, would often play the questioning role, we should call that Devil’s Advocate, where the decision was viewed from a different point and other things became clear. The DA role is not one that is “liked” by teams but one that does force alternative thinking. Instead of the GM Shrug and the casual acceptance of some bad decision (like ignition switches), that DA role can often prevent significant disasters from happening (like in a nuclear plant, where it is a common and assigned role on decision-making group processes).
Consensus is great, but check things out from all the angles before rolling forward
(I am thinking of a wagon poised on the edge of a cliff, but the people at the back of the wagon can only see a very limited view of what is ahead. Pushing Onward, without perspective, would take them over the edge. The future impacts would be clear.
Thanks for coming back, Dr. Scott. You give us a powerful illustration of the value of different perspectives. Cool
See it as a process, not a one time event. When you see decision making as a process, you’ll search for consensus not in a meeting. Like the Japanese word I shared with you in FB: Nemawashi, but taken to another context by the Toyota people. Take into account all people that will be affected by the decision, gain their insights, make them part of the decision. When the time comes for the team to huddle in a meeting for decision making, the decision will be already taken (through the process). This decision making meeting is just a wrapup summary of the process.
It is not intended for the day to day decisions, but for those decision where you’ll affect more people.
Thanks for sharing this post, always learning with your blog.
Thanks Luis. I’m glad you added your insights here as well as on Facebook. Your contribution was the reason I added the “Toyota Way” quote. I find that viewing decision-making as a process releases the pressure although those who are in a hurry to decide get frustrated. Cheers
Generally, I’ve found that if someone is consistently and fervently in disagreement on issues (or with someone) when the group needs a consensus, there are other underlying issues. Some that i’ve identified are: unchecked ego, distrust of leadership, greed and there’s no personal gain or they have to give up something, selfish attempt to put yourself in the leader’s place, it’s not “their” idea, or they have a superiority complex. Of course, there are cases these don’t apply, but I’ve not seen too many of those. My suggestion when dealing with these individuals is to ask them about what is best for the company. Leave discussion about personal stuff out of it.
The worst mistake that a leader can make in putting together a group for discussing something though isn’t having people who disagree, but instead not having the people that would have a different opinion, perspective, experience, or are otherwise highly involved where they might disagree or at least have more direct knowledge on how to make it work. You’ll quickly lose the support of the people if you make drastic, undesirable changes without involving them in the decision. Of course, you can’t necessarily do that with all decisions, but if you are trying for progress, you should try.
Thanks John. I”m glad you focused on the person who persistently disagrees. I’ve see this issue also. Trying to fix them often makes it worse. Focusing on what’s best for the organization may be helpful. Other times marginalizing or removing them may also be options.
Diversity is helpful. Being disgruntled doesn’t. I can see how a leader might be temped to choose team members based on their agreeableness. Your suggestion to seek different opinions is helpful both to the process and in building trust. Cheers
Great distillation, Dan. This is, of course, my principal area of consultation. 7 negatives? Dead on. 5 positives, also correct. Same with 7 necessities. How is this all managed consistently? Process. To make it work, the team agrees to certain rules of engagement. Step One is identification of values and purpose (team/organizational identity) This step, by the way, is why I consider Dame Margaret to be completely wrong. The process ensures that everyone contributes and that maximum alignment is achieved. It is never perfect, but it works. The Team Decision Making Tool is a little simplistic to my mind, but there are still some good ideas in there. Thanks, Dan.
Thanks Steven. I enjoy your insights. Agreeing on the rules of engagement at the beginning of the process is important. How will we treat each other? How will we respond to disagreement? How much agreement is necessary? Thanks for your frequent contributions.
An interesting and effective technique for group decision-making is the “Five to Fold” method, which parallels the levels of buy-in depicted in your chart.
It isn’t perfect, but does provide a means of evaluating the strength of a decision and the group’s buy-in, as well as personal accountability. A summary follows:
After explaining the issues and his/her proposal and fielding questions, the facilitator asks for a vote as follows:
Five fingers means the voter fully supports the proposal and is willing to take leadership in supporting the proposal.
Four fingers indicates the voter strongly supports the proposal, is willing to participate actively, but is not willing to take a leadership role in its implementation.
Three fingers demonstrates solid acceptance of the proposal.
Two fingers means that the voter has some important reservations about the proposal, but will support its implementation
One finger indicates very serious reservations about the proposal, and is an indication that the voter feels in some important way the proposal feels at odds with the purpose and needs of the group at this time. However, the voter who holds up a single finger commits to not blocking the proposal, will not subvert it in any way, and will communicate openly and honestly about his/her reservations.
Folding all fingers indicates the individual wants to block the proposal becoming a decision at this time because he/she believes with head, heart, spirit, and/or intuition, that the proposal as presented is damaging to the group’s purpose.
A fold is does not indicate failure of the process, but is an essential possible outcome of that process.
If no one has folded, the facilitator states that the proposal has become a decision, and then
always invites those who showed one or two fingers to say a few words about their reservations,
if they choose. It is useful to record these reservations when a report is being made of the
meeting decisions. This honors the unity of the group and often opens doors to addressing
these concerns in the ongoing work.
If someone has folded, the facilitator states that the proposal has not become a decision, and
invites the person(s) who folded to speak. The facilitator reminds the group that the space is
open for all participants to take responsibility to work together in the days to come to create a
resolution to the situation.
One way to minimize peer pressure is to ask people to vote with their eyes shut, then open them to tally the votes. Anonymous voting may be tempting, but is not conducive to accountability as an active group member.
It may be that the facilitator is a leader who truly believes it is right to go against a blocked vote for the good of the group and its mission. That is a serious decision with serious implications. In that case, the leader should honor the group by expressing his/her respect for their decision and repeating that he/she accepts full responsibility for the outcome, and requesting – but not imposing – group adherence to the decision.
The Five-to-Fold decision method is not perfect, but is a valuable tool in the leader’s toolbox.
Thanks Marc. I hadn’t heard of the 5 to fold method. I can see how it could be a useful tool. There is something liberating in a silent vote. I could see trying this method on big decisions. The first time I use it I’m going to say, “We’re trying a new method of voting,” so that we can all experiment with the process.
Five-fold is new to me.. I like this concept.
I liked the sound of the five fold method becauseit is so visual. I have found it hard to express my opposition to a project at times and my concerns have not been acknowledged. You can get some people who are pretty gunho about a big idea and yet others who are perhaps more detailed and more inclined to be “negative” see some definite negatives, which might not be a no but they can see pitfalls that need to be addressed before a project can be approved.
However, when I mentioned this strategy to my husband, he said he definitely couldn’t use it at work. We live in Australia and people only too readily give people the finger.
The upfront nature of this approach could also be quite confronting for many people. Again, possibly the people who need to be heard because they can prevent the pitfalls.
Thanks Roweeee. Glad you brought the Australian culture into the conversation. I wonder if there is another way to use the concept without using fingers? Could we just go around the table and ask people for their number from zero to five?
There’s something useful about stating or indicating with fingers where we stand on an issue.
Like Marc said, the Five to Fold method isn’t perfect. That’s why I intend to test it out and get feedback.
Thanks Marc. Hope you won’t mind if I add Five-to-Fold to my toolbox…
I’m not a fan of consensus. I believe in collaboration. I believe in hearing others’ concerns. At some point, we have to trust those with training and experience in their specific areas to make the final decision.
Thanks Diana. In this case the team takes the role of adviser but decisions are left with the leader. The idea that context matters is useful. One context where this is common includes organizations where the founder is involved.
In thinking about your comment, trust comes to mind as the grease that makes this work.
Well stated Diana!
“One negative person holds the team hostage.Some people feel most powerful when they disagree.”
I so found that to be true, cutting off new ideas and changes that would of been to the benefit. Adding those 4 tips…..I especially like #1.Thanks!
Thanks JoAnna. Those of us who have seen these anchors know how frustrating it can be. I suppose the warning that just because someone disagrees they shouldn’t be labeled as negative.
Perhaps, when a negative patter emerges it would be good to have a private conversation with that person and ask, when was the last time you were in favor of something?
I was quite interested in this post because while people using use the word team to refer to the workplace or a sporting team, the family is also a team and unlike the workplace, you often don’t get to handpick the players. You can’t or don’t want to fire them or maybe you do after a bad day. I once read a line: TEAM: Together Everybody Achieves More and yet…We went skiing. The first 3 days my husband skied alone and the kids were in ski school. The last 2 days, my husband skied with the kids. It turned out that even the kids skied more in ski school than when the three of them went out. They really slowed each other down. The other day, 3 of us wanted to go sailing but one didn’t even want to set foot on the boat but was too young to be left at home which meant I would have missed out. Compromise: we went out on the sail boat but went under motor, when it was the best wind for sailing we’ve had in ages. Nobody was happy when we arrived home. Next time we will leave my daughter with my mother who also doesn’t like sailing. Win win.
Reading this post, action is a huge problem for us and many families. We develop great systems. We have a list of chores etc that gets ticked off but after a few weeks, we forget to keep it going even though we know it works. In our case, I think we all need to own the project to keep us on the bandwagon.
In terms of my work, I believe in opposites working together so that projects are well thought out. I’m a creative, ideas person but could well over look some costs and thigns like juggling workload. I’m more of a make it happen type and now acknowledge the benefit of the seemingly negative to reach a well thoughtout solution which hopefully won’t land us in deep water.
Thanks Roweeee. I found both your comments helpful and interesting.
You remind me that compromise that includes people giving up what is important to them is dissatisfying. You illustrate the dark side of consensus when people don’t stand up for what’s important to them or feel pressured to give it up.
I find the idea of opposites working together is very useful as long as they respect each other’s talent and view point. It took me many years to truly honor people who come at things different from me. I’m glad I got over that hurdle. It’s better to honor different view points AND find ways to move forward together.
Excellent point on the pitfalls of consensus. I have recently dealt with an extreme case if this and eventually had to concede that not everyone will be satisfied with all decisions, but in a small team, this often proves problematic.
Im interested to hear some elaboration of Dan’s tip to put people in the position of others to defend their perspective.
This is a wonderful podcast that addresses a situation I’ve faced over the last couple of years at work. The naysayer is addressed in this podcast as the primary enemy of consensus in meetings and why consensus in decision making is generally not a good idea for a leader or manager.