Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It’s Time to Stop Waiting for Consensus

Until last week, I had never really considered the difference between consensus and buy-in. I mean, both represent a team’s commitment to the task or project or situation at hand, right? So, perhaps they are not all that different….

Well, last week, reading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” showed me how these two concepts are not the same. In fact, they are far from the same.

Lencioni points out that true consensus, where everyone on the team or in the situation completely agrees with the decision or direction, is rare. Instead, he states that “consensus becomes an attempt to please everyone.” Attempting to reach consensus within a group actually slows down the process and will likely lead to most everyone being displeased with some aspect or another of the situation.

Buy-in on the other hand, is a unique form of commitment. An individual may not agree completely with the decision or direction, but they have agreed to get on board and make the necessary actions happen. Getting buy-in can, obviously, be tricky. But you can go a long way toward getting buy-in simply by listening to your employees and/or the other members of your team and acknowledging their concerns. You see, before people commit to something that they think is questionable, they want to know that their concerns have been considered and responded to. If you give them a chance to air those concerns, show them that you have considered the impacts, and honestly discuss how and why it’s best to proceed, most people will be satisfied and will make a commitment to you and the team.

I remember working on a particularly large software development project. The senior management team tried and tried to get consensus on the project schedule. When they could not, they simply gave up and forced the development schedule on the engineers. Most of the engineers did not agree with the schedule and they too simply gave up, realizing the amount of overtime they would have to work over the next several months to make it happen. One particular software developer who did not agree with the schedule became a thorn in the side of senior management because he never worked an hour of overtime during the entire project! Was he a bad developer? No….he was one of the best and brightest engineers they had. Did he slack during the hours that he did put in? No….he worked hard and produced some of the best code on the program. However, he was not willing to sacrifice his personal and family life for a project schedule that he had never bought-in to. Needless to say, given the lack of commitment from the engineers, performance lagged and this program continually struggled to meet milestones and deadlines.

Now, imagine how well this program could have performed had senior management worked to get buy-in from the engineers on the development schedule. Instead of wasting precious time trying to get consensus, they could have spent that same time listening to the team’s concerns, considering their suggestions for schedule improvements, and responding to their inputs. In doing so, senior management could have tapped into the knowledge, experience, passion, and buy-in of the engineers, rather, than leaving them demoralized, unengaged, and under-performing.

When you look around your organization, what do you see? Are your teams spinning their wheels and wasting precious time trying to achieve consensus? What happens when they fail to reach consensus? How do they proceed? Do the force-fit decisions or do they simply get stuck and give up? Are your employees under-performing because they did not buy-in to the direction that you are going?

Working to gain buy-in versus reach consensus is a huge shift in perspective and can take time to achieve, but offers a huge payback in the end.

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• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Thanks for reading,

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Great distinction Dave,

    I too have seen the challenges presented by trying to reach consensus. It helps to have the people on the team committed to the the same values and goals. Sometime however things need to be done and as you say Consensus can water down the original idea. Buy is a good solution.