When (and When Not) to Strive for Company Consensus

by J.B. Maverick

3 min read

In making decisions to move your small business forward, there are times when it’s definitely important to have a consensus among your team, an agreed-upon vision. For other decisions, you may not need to bother with getting a company-wide consensus. Your leadership as the small business owner is key in managing discussions to arrive at a satisfactory consensus decision, and there are tips you can use to foster reaching group decisions. When a perfect consensus can’t be reached, take steps to pacify employees who aren’t totally on board with a decision.

Get Consensus for Major Decisions

Issues where it’s most important to obtain a consensus decision are generally those that impact all employees or represent a major decision about the basic goals of your company. To achieve primary business goals, such as those associated with establishing your brand identity, you want your team united in working toward a common end. If only part of your staff is on board with your company’s most basic aims, that can cause a drag effect and seriously impair your efforts to move forward.Consensus is also important for making decisions that will affect all of your employees, such as relocating your office. Back in the 1980s, when General Electric was considering moving some lighting manufacturing operations to Mexico, the company thought getting a consensus on the issue was so important that it even asked customers how they felt about the proposed move.Hiring, or rehiring, a controversial employee is another instance when it can be helpful to meet with your team beforehand and get a consensus agreement that the advantages of obtaining the employee’s services outweigh any potential negatives.

Problems With Consensus

Reaching a consensus isn’t necessary when decisions only impact part of your business operations. It’s not really necessary to make sure your accounting and manufacturing departments are in agreement on the best approach to selling your products. Your sales and marketing departments should have the independence to handle that on their own.To advance your company’s success, a desire for consensus should sometimes give way to encouraging initiative and innovation. One of the potential dangers of always seeking group agreement is it can stifle innovative ideas that may have mixed support initially but eventually lead to major breakthroughs in moving your business forward. Consensus decisions tend to be more conservative decisions, so always going for consensus can have the negative effect of keeping your company from making bold moves. Another danger is that important issues may be left unresolved if you can’t reach a consensus on how to handle them.

Fostering Consensus

There are definite steps you can take to make reaching a consensus more likely. One is to ensure there’s a clear focus on the decision to be made. Don’t leave issues to be discussed undefined or unspecific. At the start of a meeting, make sure everyone understands that the purpose of the meeting is to make a specific decision, such as “decide on what product lines to emphasize in the coming year.” Try to encourage your team members to come to the meeting prepared by bringing charts or graphs to illustrate points they want to make. This can help foster adoption of the ideas that are best supported by facts. When someone makes a proposal, ask that person to elaborate on how the idea can actually be implemented. Taking that extra step can either help convince others to adopt the suggestion or reveal possible problems with moving in the suggested direction.After a decision is made, don’t neglect reaching out to your team members who may have had opposing ideas or been reluctant to support the final decision. Talk with them privately and point out some ways they can personally benefit from the decision. You might also encourage them by green-lighting some pet project of theirs unrelated to the consensus decision.As a small business owner, you want to recognize when consensus decisions matter, and to smooth the way for your team reaching agreement.

References & Resources

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