Consent Over Consensus
Progress over Perfection
When we make decisions, we can find ourselves in lengthy debates that attempt to integrate every perspectives into a collective agreement. In other instances, teams may assume they must gain the consensus of all senior stakeholders on a decision they otherwise fully own. This slows the team’s progress and compromises their sense of empowerment.
This approach to solving problems is called consensus-driven decision making. While aspects of this approach have merit, it limits our ability to move forward quickly and empower our teammates.
Gaining consensus is counter productive for two reasons:
Building consensus can take a long time. Opportunities pass us by while we decide what to do. The opportunity costs of delaying an action can outweigh the risk of making a decision that may not be perfect, but moves us in the right direction.
Decisions are never perfect. The market is uncertain and subject to change. Our priorities must adapt accordingly. Seeking consensus on the perfect decision makes us feel attached to decisions that may become obsolete as soon as we make them.
In contrast, consent-based group decisions have a goal of progress over perfection. We use consent to force us to try things that move us forward, learn quickly, and iterate as needed.
Consent does not necessarily mean you fully agree with an idea, only that you believe the proposal is ‘safe to try’ (i.e. will not cause immediate harm to the business). Consent means allows us to make decisions faster and test ideas out as a way of accomplishing the aim of the work. If the idea doesn’t work in practice, we create a decision meeting to propose a new solution. This process puts the organization on a trajectory of rapidly experimentation that allows better solutions to emerge over time through routine experimentation and revision.
How does Consent over Consensus Work?
- Establish trust: assume all parties involved have the best intentions and are working towards a shared purpose.
- Use Responsive Decision Making: Present the proposal, ask clarifying questions, share responses, provide valid objections (if they exist), revise the proposal, and consent (or reject) the proposal.
- Limit discussion: focus on how we can safely try the proposed idea.
- Stop searching for silver bullets: consent to proposals that will move us in the right direction, even if they might not be the best imaginable solution.
- Establish regular meeting rhythms: create fast feedback loops and routinely iterate on decisions, using new information to shift course as needed.