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Collaboration Does NOT Equal Consensus

Two words that seemed to get interchanged in business are consensus and collaboration.  These words are not the same.  Definitions pulled from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Consensus: a general agreement about something : an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group

Collaboration: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

Consensus means getting everyone to agree.  This is what happens when a jury goes to deliberate on a case.  They must come to a consensus or it is a hung jury.

Collaboration is working together towards a common goal.

People can work together towards a common goal without agreeing on the method.

In today’s world, collaboration is a must for much of what people do.  People must work together to understand a customer’s needs and then develop and manufacture that product.  If consensus had to happen before any work was started, work would never get completed.

Have you ever worked on a team where someone tried to get consensus before moving on?  It can be painstaking.  Especially, when there are varying opinions.  This is where a leader steps in and makes decisions that sometimes are very tough.

Good leaders know the difference between collaboration and consensus.  They know when consensus is important and when it is not needed.

Do you interchange the two?

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Separate Mapping Can Bring People Together

Mapping is a common tool used with many people whether they are associated with lean, six sigma, or just doing business.  There are all kinds of maps.  Value Stream Maps, process maps, flow charts, etc.

The difference is how people use the maps.  People with a lean lens use maps as a way to directly observe the process because somethings the process only happens on a rare occasion.  The lean mindset also uses mapping as a way to get everyone to have a common understanding of the current process.  The mapping involves every role that touches the process including the suppliers and customers.  It helps to ground everyone in what actually is happening.  When doing a future state of the process, it helps everyone go forward with a consistent message.

But, what if you can’t get everyone to agree on a future state map?  Then what?

I had this happen a few weeks ago when I was facilitating an improvement event.  There clearly were two factions of people in the room.  One that wanted to really stretch the new process and one that wanted to make a few changes.  The group was split almost 50/50.  The team spent 3 hours that afternoon debating and arguing points.  Consensus was not happening.  As the facilitator, I saw the group was getting frustrated and worn out so I called it for the day.  That night I regrouped with the project leader and we decided to split the group into two teams.  One would map out the stretch future state and one would map out the small changes future state.  Then we would debrief each other.

I didn’t notice a big difference in the concepts, but the group thought there was a huge valley between them.

The next morning, I split the group into the teams and have them 1 hour to map their future state.  One team had the stretch and one team had the small changes.  After the hour was up, the teams debriefed each other on their future state maps.  To the groups amazement, the maps came out to be the same!  A quick 40 minute debrief on the maps and both groups were on the same page and gained not only consensus but unanimous agreement on the future state.

The maps allowed a clear and concise message to be understood by all involved.  The group accomplished in 1 hr 45 min what they couldn’t do the previous day in 3 hrs.  This created a strong united team that went to the sponsorship with the recommendation.

In this case, having teams build separate maps was the remedy needed to bring this group together.  This method may not work with all groups, but it is one that might be able to help at some time.