What Consensus Is (And Isn't)

football“The only place ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary,” insisted Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”  One of the characteristics that distinguished Lombardi’s brilliant career was his incredible ability to rouse team spirit and a collaborative commitment to excellence.  He believed each player contributed to the success of his team because they “learned to love the game before [they] become dedicated to it.”

Building a collaborative vision and mission is more than an all-in-favor-raise-your-hands voting practice. Collaboration often includes difficult, gut-wrenching consensus-seeking dialogue. The more invested members of a group are to the vision of the group, the thornier a consensus process can be.  Michael Roberto, author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensushttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwdrjuliec0d-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B004QQ3MJ0, states that consensus “does not mean unanimity, widespread agreement on all facets of a decision, or complete approval by a majority of organization members.”  Group members may not completely agree upon all aspects of decisions; however, they concur to components they can live with.  Roberto explained, “Consensus has two critical components: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.”

What Consensus Is

My first meeting as a new faculty member at an urban middle school included a vision and mission consensus process that lasted several days.  The principal explained we needed to develop faculty vision and mission statements that tied to the mission and vision of the school and district.  She introduced a new vice-principal to facilitate the process.  Teachers argued, they called each other out for not following agreed-upon norms, and expressed verbal and nonverbal frustration. Many teachers openly demonstrated resistance, resignation, and sometimes hostility; citing that the consensus process was too time-consuming and energy-draining. Bruce Tuckman referred to this as the “storming” process.  His forming-norming-storming-performing theory referred to the rich process that clarified a group’s mission and vision and, in the end, united its members.

Robert Chadwick, author of Finding New Groundhttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwdrjuliec0d-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1470175150, added that when we share common beliefs and commitments to a common cause, it is not uncommon to strongly differ about how our decisions will be carried out in actions. The teachers quarreled about opposing viewpoints, passionately expressed their commitment to students and to one another; laughed, cried, and designed beautiful vision and mission statements they hoped would leave a legacy of hope and promise for the future.

I wanted to applaud at the end of the grueling consensus-seeking process.  I received my vision, mission, and goal-setting strategy training through a Lily endowment a decade earlier when I was part of a pastoral ministry staff.  I firmly believe that consensus is at the heart of collaborative staffs with strong transformational leadership.  The staff’s vision and mission statements were printed in large letters across a white board.

What Consensus Isn’t

We beamed when the principal returned to the room.  She praised our collaborative efforts and clearly-stated vision and mission statements. She distributed sheets of paper and explained how the consensus process would contribute to the depth of our relationships and stand as a firm foundation for decision-making processes throughout the rest of the upcoming school year.  The sheets introduced us to her  faculty vision and mission statements.  She invited us to read her statements aloud while several students unrolled large banners with her words in print for all to see.  She jubilantly explained the banners would be displayed in the foyer so everyone who entered our school would understand the deep commitment shared among all staff members for our students and our school.

I don’t believe an iron wrecking ball could have wracked more damage to staff empowerment, trust, and willingness to participate in any collaborative decision-making processes in the future.  Peter Drucker, author of Managing for the Future: The 1990s and Beyondhttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwdrjuliec0d-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0452269849, stated, “An effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision.”  He continued, “The vision must be tied to what the firm values and the leader must make this connection in a way that the organization can understand, grasp, and support.”

Lessons Learned
I remember these crucial lessons when I facilitate vision, mission, and goal-setting strategy discussions.  I believe the teachers that were gathered in that room that day would have felt much less sadness and discouragement if the principal’s mission and vision statements would have been distributed at the beginning of the meeting without a consensus-seeking process.  However, the statements were distributed after an invitation for contribution and collaboration was extended to the members of the group.  Predictably, the principal’s voice dominated the “collaborative” meetings throughout the rest of the year.  Meetings started, teachers listened, and meetings were adjourned.

Silence does not mean others are listening.  It simply means they are not speaking.  A cooperative environment supports and encourages a spirit of leadership that enthusiastically declares, “If I win, you win.  If I lose, you lose.”  On the contrary, a competitive environment argues, “If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose.”  An authoritative voice insists, “My winning or losing has nothing to do with you; your winning or losing has nothing to do with me.”

Our core values are so close to the center of who we are that we tend to be very protective of them until a personal relationship has been established.  The fact that these values are so central to what’s important to us individually makes it all the more important to provide opportunities for all group members to dialogue about its collective core values  as a basis for establishing decision-making structures and positive collaborative relationships.

How has your core values shaped your relationships with others?

photo credit: clappstar via photopin cc

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