The pursuit of consensus has long been hailed as a cornerstone of decision-making and collaboration. After all, it seems intuitive that when a group of individuals can find common ground and agree on a course of action, it should lead to better outcomes. However, the assertion that consensus is the quickest path to mediocrity challenges this conventional wisdom. In this article, we will explore the arguments on both sides of the debate to determine whether consensus is, in fact, a hindrance or a help in achieving excellence.
So actually arriving at a consensus has two meanings. The one that we are concerned about surrounds basically finding an overall general agreement that everybody is happy with. This can be an attachment derived from observation and so we may get the consensus that our current government has issues in a particular area because we have observed it over a specific amount of time. We may even get the consensus that our current government has issues in specific areas since we observed it over a specific amount of time and have gathered a sufficient amount of evidence about the general agreement.
When I do think about how tricky it can be to reach a consensus, I think about the time there was conflict surrounding what color number plates should be. At first they wanted a brownish color but then the Flemish part of Belgium wanted to have red on white, and the French part wanted something different. So in the end they decided to rather just mix the two colors up to satisfy both sides.
On the other hand, if you think about the sociocratic approach, the way that we find an answer is important because there’s a chance for us to bring people on board to understand that what we are doing is a good thing. And it’s a little bit of a dicey situation and not necessarily the best approach of all time, but if you put a proper process behind that, then you really need to try to get as many people on board. Because at the end of the day, someone has to make the decision and I think this is where I really emphasize in my courses that we do not always have to be consensus driven. It is rather more important to be evidence driven.
The assertion that “Consensus is the quickest path to mediocrity” is a complex one that depends on various factors, including the context, the nature of the decision, and the individuals involved. While consensus can indeed lead to cautious and compromise-driven decisions, it is not inherently a road to mediocrity. The key lies in striking a balance. Consensus should not stifle creativity or boldness, but rather facilitate discussions that lead to well-considered decisions. It should encourage diverse perspectives while avoiding the trap of appeasement. When used judiciously, consensus can be a valuable tool for decision-making that promotes inclusivity, trust, and commitment.
Ultimately, the pursuit of excellence and the avoidance of mediocrity should not solely depend on the decision-making process but on the individuals involved and the culture of the organization. A group that values innovation and encourages open dialogue can use consensus as a means to achieve excellence, rather than settling for mediocrity.
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About Effective Agile
Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.
As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all #scrum.org certified courses.
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