Consensus Crisis

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 22, 2009

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a big meeting with too much to do and too little time to do it.

There are serious issues that need to be addressed, but nobody is speaking their mind. The opinions that people share individually at lunch, over coffee or in the corridor just don’t come out in these meetings.

Just when it seems that things couldn’t get worse, someone suggests a seemingly attractive but impractical idea. Individually everyone knows the pitfalls, these are mistakes we’ve made before, but in the group, no one is prepared to be the first to speak out against the idea.

Despite serious personal reservations, the typical response is, “If its alright with me if its OK with everyone else.” As a result, the suggestion takes a life of its own and another group of adults is about is about to do something as a group that each of them as individuals would have had enough sense to have avoided

Interpersonal conflict can be unpleasant and disruptive. But when it comes to decision making, an early consensus can be far more damaging that a little conflict.

Peer pressure is generally assumed to be a negative influence that is exerted on the youth in our society. Consensus crisis is the adult version of peer pressure, only it occurs more frequently and has a more lasting and damaging impact.

Peer pressure is not so bad when it involves going along with what everyone else wants to do. It is particularly negative however, when it involves going along with what everyone else is doing when that is something that none of them really want to be doing.

A consensus crisis is the adult version of peer pressure.

Conflict within a business organization is often considered something that should be avoided.

On closer examination, however, not all conflicts within an organization can be considered by the same standards. Organizational conflict can be classified in one of two categorizes, policy and procedure.

Procedural conflicts are all of those upsetting interpersonal disputes that don’t involve the major strategic decisions of the business but are

You’ve been there before and you’ll be there again. While peer pressure amongst teenagers usually has its origins in informal gatherings when there’s nothing to do, adult consensus crises occur at organized gatherings when there’s plenty to do.

You’re sitting at a weekly meeting discussing the many things that need to be done. Someone suggests building a new product, penetrating a different market, or a different organizational approach.

Most new ideas sound good, but on closer examination, the cracks begin to show through.

Sure, we could do it, but who is really going to do it. Millions could be sold, but who really is going to buy it. It won’t cost all that much, but where is the money going to come from,

What’s the solution for the manager that wants to encourage the free flow of new ideas but wants to avoid the pitfalls of a consensus crisis? Encourage conflict. That’s right, encourage conflict, conflict as it pertains to policy, not personality. The experienced manager facilitates a healthy level of policy conflict by encouraging the expression of differing opinions while maintaining respect for the individuals expressing them.

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