Whether you are a program manager, project manager or functional manager, there will be times when you need to exercise your authority to propel the team forward and other times when you need to lead by achieving a team consensus. I believe the need for the consensus approach often arises when there is some log jam that is preventing progress, and you need a change in how things are done and buy-in from the team to accomplish it. A log jam may be a technical or financial roadblock, a time constraint, outside pressures, or a dramatic change in scope or requirements.
As a manager, I believe there are important things to consider when leading a team to consensus.
Collaboratively brainstorm ideas and have an approach for arriving at decisions
To achieve consensus, it is ideal to hold a team workshop to draw out new approaches to solving the issues at hand. The workshop should allow for a process to brainstorm the solution, evaluate possibilities, and come to conclusions. It is important to setup a constructive, open environment for discussion, and at the same time make it clear that coming to consensus may mean some ideas are put aside. If you setup a decision analysis criteria, then that can remove the ego and emotions from opinions put forward. The ideas are smoke tested against the decision analysis, and considered or dismissed accordingly.
Remember: teams are made up of individuals.
It’s important to understand how your team works individually and as a whole. Being a person with a core value of fairness, it was a surprise to me when I learned that being fair meant that you don’t treat everyone on a team the same way. To get the best performance from individual team members, you have to understand how they function independently as well as in the team. In a group discussion, this might mean drawing some people out, while trying to temper stronger voices. It’s striking the balance so that all ideas are heard.
Having the courage to publicly change your mind
If you are asking your team to arrive at a consensus then you have to be willing to be flexible and bend with the outcome. This may mean revising or reversing decisions you have made in the past.
Sell Stakeholders on the new ideas
Once the team has arrived with a consensus on a way forward, it is time to sell it to the key Stakeholders, such as your executive team, customers, and other teams impacted by your decisions. If your team had a fruitful session then you should be armed with supporting information on why this consensus is your recommended approach. You also need to be open to the feedback from the stakeholders and have prepared the team for the possibility of changes to the agreed approach.
Though this may sound like a lot of time and overhead, in practice the application is simpler than it sounds. It can in the long run save you needed time, energy and re-work if you had continued down a path that is not productive.
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