Friday, February 24, 2012

Futility of consensus

Trying to achieve consensus in corporate decision making is often somewhat like Waiting for Godot. Consensus by default means a group has together decided to take certain actions. This often gets translated as 'organization policy' or 'management decision' and thus it is difficult to find an owner responsible for the same. Often people seem to seek consensus when they are not confident enough to take decisions on their own. It is also an effective tool for delaying certain decisions.

Building consensus takes huge efforts, time and patience. There are conflicting interests to navigate and people's knowledge levels and skills are sometimes questionable to take a call on the issue at hand. If you are in a competitive, cut-throat industry and need quick go-to-market timelines to survive, forget about achieving this by consensus. In such a scenario it is always better to have a firm owner who is empowered enough to take decisions and assume responsibility of such decisions.

Instances abound in the corporate world where organizations have tried dual leadership models, possibly to reduce risks. What gets reduced is the speed and agility with which organizations can respond to change. A recent example which comes to mind is Wipro -, where this model failed. Infosys on the other hand shows a different approach where joint founders got a shot at the top position in turns, with varying degrees of success and acceptance.

In my view looking for consensus becomes futile in these situations -
  • Conflicting or Vested Interests
  • Missing Big Picture
  • Lack of Clarity of Vision across Organization
  • Seeking Opportunity to Negotiate Self-Interest (you scratch my back I will scratch yours)
  • Multiple Strong Dictatorial Views
  • No Party Willing to Give Ground
  • Attitude of 'Not My Turf'
  • Oppose for the Sake of Opposition
When looking for approaches and methods of building consensus, I found several articles propagating the advantages of consensus and how to make consensus work. So here's a view from my side to say there is no consensus on the utility of consensus. :)