Consensus Is Not Commitment

Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

Achieving goals requires a team commitment. Consensus is not commitment, but leaders can confuse the two outcomes in the pursuit of collaboration. 

Fostering a culture of dialogue in which teammates are encouraged to share their opinions, suggestions and concerns is a necessary first step towards commitment and shared accountability. But the objective is not to build team agreement or to create harmony versus conflict. On the contrary, the objective is to discover and assess differing perspectives that enable the team to choose the best way forward and commit to it. 

Pursuing consensus, or shared agreement, about a critical business issue, undermines team commitment by avoiding healthy, essential discussions about conflicting ideas. It’s the easier way, allowing team members to surrender to the majority opinion rather than exposing themselves to the risk of expressing their views. A team member suggesting a delay to re-analyze, ducking eye contact, shrugging shoulders or saying “whatever,” are warning signs that this person has stopped participating and is not committed. Consensus slows decision-making, encourages unstated opinions, produces ill-will, and ultimately, breeds division. 

Commitment is a promise by the team to act together to achieve its shared goal. The exchange of differing opinions that produces commitment is intended to improve clarity about direction and common objectives by soliciting the collective knowledge and expertise of the team. It prioritizes actions required to achieve the goal, how these will be accomplished, when and by whom. This enables buy-in, while also providing the confidence to act, or if necessary, to adapt and refine a position without hesitation or guilt. Commitment accelerates decision-making, discourages second-guessing, strengthens shared accountability, and achieves goals. 

Leaders understand that uncertainty underlies most decisions. Team commitment enables leaders and their teams to productively manage this uncertainty while acting to achieve goals.

How do you secure commitment from your team?

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