Consensus versus Confrontation

Quick Summary: A recognized, repeatable process for decision making is critical to a company’s success.


CEOs and most senior level managers exhibit a take-charge attitude and approach to their jobs.  That characteristic is probably the major reason they have risen to their senior level.  When grouped together, arriving at agreement even on minor issues may become problematic.  A systematic process for making decision needs to be put in place and followed by employees and managers at all levels.  It must be ingrained into the company’s culture.   

Would you rather have a company culture that is based on consensus or confrontation?  Do not be so quick to answer; it is a trick question.  Both terms can be transient states that may or may not involve all interested parties and may not produce the desired long-term, lasting results.  The issue is best described by using three extreme examples.

  • Company X is run by a closely held management team that regularly meets behind closed doors.  They collectively make decisions for the organization based on maintaining harmony within their ranks.  Just as Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the management team broadcasts to all employees what they have decided and will implement.
  • Company Y has a similar management structure.  Unlike Company X, each member is fixated on protecting their own self-interests as they see them and is unwilling to compromise.  When the CEO makes a decision, each manager informs their staff of what they want to do, which may or may not be in line with the CEOs decision.
  • Company Z is run by a didactic CEO who is tired of the infighting of his executive staff and impatient with the seemingly never-ending positioning that occurs.  The CEO simply makes decisions based upon the inputs of a few key people who get to him first, and informs others of his unilateral decisions.

Of course, all of these examples will lead to a dysfunctional organization.  Employees in Company X may become critics of whatever decision was cast upon them because of their lack of input. Company Y employees will be confused with trying to satisfy their bosses’ desires while hearing contrary opinions from the CEO and colleagues in other departments.  Managers and employees of Company Z will feel no ownership of the decisions and be not overly concerned with their success or failure.

To remedy these situations, it may appear necessary that all parties compromise their positions.  This may work, but is likely to result in “unholy truces” in which lip-service agreement is initially made, followed by reverting to previously held positions of the past.  This situation is often characterized by small, closed-door meetings followed by, “I told you so,” comments when the first issue appears.  Worse, some individuals may actually “innocently” cause the plan to fail, most likely through their inactions.

With all of the negative scenarios mentioned above, there is an approach that avoids many of the issues listed above, and should be incorporated at all levels of the company.  It involves a simple, seven-step process.

  1. When an issue arises, ask the directly involved people to list the pros and cons of their suggested solutions.  Unfortunately, virtually everyone in every organization has an opinion on everything!  Limiting the process to only those people that are directly involved or will be impacted by the decision will, at first, leave others with the feeling of being disenfranchised.  As time goes on and the process is shown to be effective, others will accept the wisdom of those who were involved.
  2. Clearly define what the decision process will be before any discussions take place.
  3. Give all “sides” equal time to present their suggestions with no interruptions.
  4. After each alternative is presented, discuss their merits and drawbacks without comparing and contrasting each to other approaches.
  5. When all sides are heard, collectively list pros and cons, risks, and success or failure metrics of all alternatives.
  6. Empower the decision maker(s) to make the decision.
  7. Receive the commitment from all those involved in the process that they will unilaterally support the decision and be proponents of it.  Be clear that those who choose not to comply with the decision will be held accountable for their actions.

The above process may seem arduous or unnecessarily complicated, but can actually be performed in minutes.  As the group becomes more familiar with it through repetition, the process will move even faster.  Not only will decisions be made faster and more thoughtfully, but they will also be far more likely to be supported throughout the organization.

Over time, the entire organization will grow to trust one another and allow others to make decisions without their involvement.  Trust will be the tie that binds the entire organization together.


Article Number : 4.050404   

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