Is Collaboration Dressed Up as Consensus in Your Organization?

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Is collaboration dressed up as consensus in your organization? Is it making your innovation efforts a bit scary? Are you spooked when it comes to decision-making? Using these tricks will make collaboration a treat.

Is collaboration dressed up as consensus in your organization?

Many organizations strike committees to tackle challenges or to support innovation. 


In general, this is a good idea. It sets up opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, offering diverse viewpoints and support to achieve a goal. 


But one of the challenges I see with this approach repeatedly is that these committees form without much thought about how they'll work together. They don't have a process for problem-solving, members don't have clarity on who owns the problem and who holds decision-making authority. Nor do they know how they'll make decisions. 


So, the group forms, they get down to work, and when it comes to advancing ideas or getting decisions, they get stalled, tricked out, and generally frustrated with the process.


The worst part of this?


These groups often think they need consensus from all committee members on what they're doing and how they'll do it; it's a highly unproductive way to work.


And, it's downright scary. 


So, what then can you do if you find yourself in a situation where collaboration dresses up as consensus?

Collaboration vs consensus

First, let's not conflate consensus and collaboration; let's not assume that you need consensus when collaborating. 


Collaboration is a process for producing or creating something with others. You do it by clarifying the associated challenges, generating and exploring ideas, developing solutions, and working on getting them implemented. Collaboration isn't about getting everyone to agree. It's about leveraging a diversity of viewpoints and getting the right people, at the right time, appropriately involved in a thinking process focused on producing results. 


Consensus, on the other hand, is limited to a specific form of decision-making. It's about having unanimity and agreement around an issue or solution that impacts everyone involved in a group. 


So, is it consensus or collaboration that you need? 

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The truth is that very few situations require consensus, and many need collaboration. 

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Collaboration is best suited to complex challenges and if you find yourself in a situation that's ambiguous in nature and with uncertain outcomes. These are the kinds of challenges that need multiple skill sets or teams to resolve. And, when stakeholder buy-in, participation and engagement are at the heart of creating the commitment necessary to drive change or gain acceptance for innovation, you need to collaborate. In this case, we don't need everyone involved to agree on the same solution, decision, or conclusion, but we need their agreement to work towards a shared goal and contribute their thinking to achieve it. 

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Now, if you find yourself in a situation where a decision does need unanimous agreement, you'll still need to collaborate until you reach a consensus. Remember that you need to make it clear from the start that consensus is required and that you'll need to allocate time to go through the thinking process that will allow that to happen. 


How to make collaboration a treat

First, recognize that innovation, as well as collaboration, is a team sport. And like any sport, there are rules to follow, everyone has a specific role, and there is a shared process that guides play. Otherwise, nobody wins.


Here are three tricks to make sure you're not involved in a scary collaboration. 

  1. Know your process
  2. Eliminate role confusion
  3. Follow the rules 

Know your process 

What's your process for collaboration?


Have you ever noticed that everyone brings a different vision of what that looks like to the table?


We make assumptions about how we'll work together and then wonder why we end up in conflict or feeling stuck or unproductive.  


The best process I've found to guide collaboration is creative problem-solving. 




Because the primary function of teams (or committees, for that matter) is to solve problems to advance an organization's goals, it makes sense to give them a shared process for problem-solving.

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Creative problem solving is particularly good for solving complex problems – precisely the sort of problems you need committees to tackle and require collaboration. Initially developed 65 years ago, it's the most researched problem-solving model in the world – we've used it with clients and taught it to them for over 15 years, and it's worked every time. 


Eliminate Role Confusion

Have you ever been confused about who's doing what and when in your efforts at collaboration? Or have you found yourself stuck or left with everyone pointing fingers at each other when it comes to decision-making?


Think about what happens on an average sports team. In any given season, while the players may change positions, the owner and coach are typically in place to guide the process of play. The same thing happens when you use creative problem solving as your structure for collaboration. 


Collaboration is a necessary part of the innovation game; it's one of the significant plays if you will. Many players, also known as stakeholders, need to be involved at various stages. And while these players may come and go as the innovation process evolves, the one constant in this process is the player who owns the problem the innovation will 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 overly confuse collaboration. Concerned about engaging people in innovation, they overlook the importance of bringing clarity to roles and responsibilities in that process. And this has a significant impact on being able to keep moving forward.


In reality, all collaborators are not equal.


When you use creative problem solving as your structure for collaboration, you have a proven approach to eliminate role confusion.  


Here's why. In creative problem solving, there are three primary roles people play. And when you know these roles and how to use them, you can end the role confusion that often sidetracks collaborative work.


When you integrate these three roles and clarify what role each is playing, everyone knows what to do and, the scariness surrounding decision-making vanishes. 

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Here are the roles, with a brief description of each below. 

  1. Client
  2. Resource Group
  3. Process Facilitator


Client Resource Group Process Facilitator

The Client owns the challenge that requires collaboration and is responsible for ensuring a productive outcome. 


The Client typically has a 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, selecting ideas that best address the challenge, and making decisions related to resolving the challenge and approving the move ahead.  

The Resource Group supports the "client" by providing ideas, energy, insight, fresh perspectives and performing activities to discover and resolve the challenge. 


If you're using a committee, committee members would be the Resource Group.


The Resource Group could also include stakeholders who need to be involved or the Client's direct reports.


While Resource Group members contribute thinking and ideas, unless delegated the authority by the Client, they are not involved in the actual decision-making about what ideas get advanced, which solutions are approved, and what needs to happen next in the problem-solving process.

The Process Facilitator is the person or team of people responsible for monitoring and directing the group process.

They know the creative problem-solving process and how to engage others in it.

They guide the plays to achieve the goal and advise the Client in ensuring the right Resource Group members come to the table at the right time.

The Process Facilitator makes process decisions based on the Client's input and stated outcomes.


Here's what I like about these roles. They're simple. There's clarity around who gets to make decisions (the Client), who contributes thinking (the Resource Group and Client), and who supports the creative problem solving and engagement process (the Process Facilitator). And the roles are explicit and transparent. Even if a Client or Resource Group member needs to take on the role of Process Facilitator in the group, the objective is to maintain clarity on what position you're playing at every step of the way. 


Follow the rules

With creative problem solving as your process, there are two very distinct modes of thinking you engage in. They are conducted separately and sequentially. 


First, divergent thinking, characterized as an unconstrained broad search for many diverse and novel alternatives, is used.


Then, once sufficient options are on the table, the process switches to convergent thinking used to screen, select, prioritize, organize and refine options. Convergent thinking is a focused and affirmative evaluation designed to improve and advance promising possibilities.


But herein lies the rub. 


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


Here's the trick

So, the next time you are involved in collaboration and struggling for 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 and what kind of thinking you need. 


By ensuring the roles and responsibilities are well-defined ahead of time, collaboration needn't be such a scary experience!


Want to learn more?


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

Start today with our short impactful personal and team development program called Mindset Reveal. Delivered fully online, it helps people gain self-awareness about who they are as a collaborator, and what makes them more or less effective as a leader and contributor so that they can enhance their ability to drive team collaboration, stimulate productive innovation and develop innovative solutions to complex business challenges. 

Or, let's chat about our ThinkUP Framework(TM) program that teaches your team(s) the framework they need to collaborate effectively, work across functions, respond creatively to change and get the best work done. 

Schedule a consultation call 

About BridgePoint Effect

BridgePoint Effect is a boutique consulting firm with a bold vision to transform the way leaders and their teams collaborate, innovate, and deliver outstanding results.

We help frustrated leaders who know their teams can achieve more. 

We offer a framework, practical toolkit and high calibre coaching that gives you the structure, skills and support needed to build an effective team.

Let's get your team achieving more than you ever thought possible.


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 trust you'll enjoy his creativity and perspective.

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


in "Creative Problem Solving"
in "culture of innovation"
in "creative thinking"

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