Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Consensus Usually Doesn't Work

Consensus – agreement in collective opinion…

I’m growing more and more convinced that the worst thing leaders can do is to always strive for a consensus about decisions that must be made. Think government. Think church committee meetings. Think declining big business. Think declining churches.

On the surface, reaching a consensus seems like a positive thing because it means a group of people have agreed to move in the same direction. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Most of the time it is. But if the organizational structure requires (or unsure leaders need) consensus before a decision can be made, then it becomes a lethargic slow-moving system in which very little is accomplished.

For example, here are five
reasons why consensus can be counterproductive:

1. It embraces the status quo. Change, whether positive or not, is not human nature. We would prefer for things to remain the way they are today. So, when people get together to discuss the possibility of doing something a little different in the future, it’s normal for the majority to avoid making changes.

2. It gives the malcontents an equal voice in your decision. Reaching consensus gives everyone a voice at the table. When that happens, even the negative, bitter folks who don’t really embrace the vision have the opportunity to pull the rest of the group away from what could really be the most desirable outcome.

3. It short circuits the radical ideas that lead to the biggest breakthroughs. The big, bold ideas won’t see the light of day. Yet those are the ideas that could potentially lead to the best innovations. Consensus brings people back to the middle where the majority approves but mediocrity reigns.

4. It leaves unresolved conflict on the table. At the opposite ends of a decision are distinct opinions which, if left unresolved, could potentially lead to division. Consensus prevents tough conversations from happening. It gives people the freedom to jump to compromise without engaging a healthy debate.

5. It discourages people from dreaming big dreams. Do you want to quash the creative-thinkers and visionaries in your church? Force them to reach consensus with the rest of the crowd. These are the people that think outside the box, making "inside the box" people uncomfortable. Yet they may be the very ones who are creative enough to see something with fresh eyes. Quash them and they will simply go someplace else.

Consensus cannot always be arrived at. The opinions are often too diverse. With that kind of decision-making machinery in place, one “no” can outweigh a dozen “yeses.” One nay can delay. Unanimous consent is good. It is desirable. And it would work IF church committees were populated by cherubim.

“Consensus negates leadership.” - Margaret Thatcher

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