Is Collaboration Dressed Up as Consensus in Your Organization?

Do you find collaboration when innovating a bit scary? Are you haunted by consensus decision-making? Let me bring you some hope.

As I’ve often said, innovation is a team sport. And like any sport, there are rules to follow and everyone has a role to play. Otherwise, nobody wins.

Collaboration is a necessary part of the innovation game; it’s one of the major plays if you will. In innovation, collaboration is about co-creation of an implementable solution. Many players, also known as stakeholders, need to be involved at various stages. And while these many players come and go as the process evolves, the one constant in this process is the player who owns the problem that the innovation is designed to address.

And therein lies the secret to decision-making:

Innovation needs collaboration, not decisions by committee or consensus.

Many of the leaders and teams I work with confuse collaboration with consensus. Concerned about engaging people in the process of innovation, they overlook the importance of bringing clarity to roles and responsibilities in that process. And this has a big impact on being able to keep moving forward.

In reality, all collaborators are not created equally.

Eliminate Role Confusion

At BridgePoint Effect, when we’re invited into an organization to help build a culture of innovation, one of the first things we do is introduce them to the FourSight Thinking System™,  a simple, four-step process for innovation. The process includes creative and critical thinking tools that help you organize your thinking as you tackle the challenges that come with innovation. Backed by over sixty years of research into creative problem solving, the FourSight Thinking System™ establishes a shared language for innovation and makes roles and responsibilities within the innovation process explicit. In effect, responsibilities in collaboration become clear and the scariness surrounding decision-making vanishes.

The Players

In the FourSight Thinking System™ there are three players, each with a role to play: the Client, the Resource Group, and the Process Facilitator.

These players move through a thinking process that clarifies the challenge, generates ideas to resolve the challenge, builds the most promising ideas into workable solutions, and finally, works to implement them and monitor and adapt the process for doing so. While Resource Group members and the Process Facilitator may come and go based on the needs of the challenge and how it is progressing through the innovation process, one player is constant – the Client. This is because the Client owns the problem and is responsible for ensuring a productive outcome.

Client Resource Group Process Facilitator
The Client owns the challenge the innovation is needed to resolve.

The Client typically has budget, a performance objective, and real skin in the game.

The Client is responsible for sharing background information on the challenge, generating ideas with the Resource Group (or stakeholders), selecting ideas that best address the challenge, making decisions related to resolving the challenge.

The Resource Group supports the “client” by providing ideas, energy, insight, fresh perspectives and work actions to discover and resolve the challenge.

While they get to contribute thinking and ideas, the Resource Group, unless delegated the authority by the Client, is not involved in the actual decision-making about what ideas get advanced, how solutions will be built, and what needs to happen next.

The “FourSight process expert”; the person (or team of people) responsible for monitoring and directing group process.

The Process Facilitator makes process decisions based on the client’s input and stated outcomes. This role can be assigned to a different person(s) for each stage of the innovation process.

The Right Thinking

Two distinct and separate thinking steps are used at each stage of the FourSight innovation process. First, the players engage in what’s called divergent thinking, characterized as an unconstrained broad search for many diverse and novel alternatives. Typically, this thinking step is led by someone who takes on the role of a Process Facilitator and works with the Client to identify and engage stakeholders to be in the Resource Group as needed.

Once all options are on the table, the second thinking step, convergent thinking is used to screen, select, prioritize, organize and refine options. Convergent thinking is a focused and affirmative evaluation designed to improve and advance promising options.

And herein lies the rub. While the more viewpoints the better when it comes to divergent thinking, less is more when it comes to convergent thinking. Not everyone gets to come to the table. Only the Client and select Resource Group members get to move through the convergent thinking step with the help of the Process Facilitator – otherwise the results are scary.

So the next time you are involved in collaboration and struggling to get to a decision, call a time out and ask yourself, “Am I confusing collaboration with consensus?”  and think about who needs to be at the table. By making sure the roles and responsibilities are well-defined ahead of time, collaboration needn’t be such a scary experience!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Want to learn more?

 We promise, it won’t be scary and you’ll be in for a real treat!

Schedule a consultation call 

Here are some of the ways we do it using Creativity & Innovation training, the FourSight Thinking System™ and our ThinkUP Innovation Framework™.



About BridgePoint Effect

Doing business in an evolving, dynamic environment brings unique, never-before-seen challenges for business leaders.

We understand the pressure a leader and their team faces each day. We provide tools, training and meeting facilitation services so they collaborate to achieve more than they ever thought possible. 

A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win. 

Our services are delivered at your-site, our-site, virtually and in blended on-site and virtual formats. 


I’ve long been a fan of the work of Tom Fishburne, the Marketoonist.  He’s a cartoonist who combines his knowledge of brand marketing and innovation with his passion for drawing.  If you’ve attended any of our courses, you’ll likely recognize that we’ve licensed many of his cartoons because they so eloquently capture the spirit of the challenges associated with building cultures of innovation.  I hope you enjoy his creativity and perspectives on innovation.

Click here to see Tom’s full cartoon and lesson on designing by committee.


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