Consensus Can Doom Decisions

Imagine you are building a house with the only tool you know how to use – a rock and nothing else. Now, suppose your neighbor builds his house with a full selection of modern tools. Can you predict which house is built best?

Consensus decision-making is the old rock of available techniques. It’s the one that gets overused despite more powerful and effective strategies. Like the homebuilder with only a rock, a leader that makes decisions only by consensus will fall quickly behind other organizations who understand and practice the alternatives. It’s easy to fall into this trap. We are taught early and often to involve all members of the group in decision-making. The idea is that a better decision comes from gathering everyone’s input.

Consensus decision-making really just makes the acceptance of the decision easier since everyone involved had a voice. It doesn’t necessarily make it the best decision or the right decision. It certainly can make it the slowest decision.  And still leaders practice consensus decision-making every single day without understanding any of the alternatives.

But consensus isn’t the only trap that can doom the important process of decision-making.

The First Impact Trap

Your immediate reaction to the first piece of information or the first idea received can weight disproportionately and bias you against evaluating all the information available. That first impact is like a lens that colors all subsequent information.

The Status Quo Trap

You may have built-in bias deciding to do nothing even when better alternatives exist. Risk avoidance, work avoidance, and cost avoidance are common illusions that reinforce the status quo. Remember, there’s always a cost for doing nothing.

The Confirmation Bias Trap

Everyone suffers from confirmation bias. We seek out information to support our beliefs and discount or even ignore information that could undermine those beliefs.

Use the Right Tools

As a leader, you are expected to make decisions under imperfect circumstances. Understand the alternatives to consensus decision-making and enjoy the success a well-stocked tool chest brings.

How’s the organizational coefficient of drag in your company?


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