Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thinking through alignment and disagreement 7: navigating consensus building and independent action

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 9, 2013

This is my seventh posting to a series in which I discuss the roles that disagreement and coming together in alignment can play in a business and how both can offer significant and even essential value – when expressed and considered in the right contexts and ways (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 450 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.)

I at least began a discussion on consensus building and independent action in Part 6 , with a working example that I have seen played out when people from more consensus building cultures need to find ways to more effectively work with colleagues from more individualistic and do-it-yourself cultures.

I noted there that I was in fact presenting a cartoon image, only noting how tendencies towards one or the other of these two basic approaches can serve as potential conflict-generating starting points when people have to work together. And I was only writing there about starting points, as consensus based approaches offer greater value and can even be essential in some business circumstances, while a willingness to take the initiative and act independently can be essential in others – and regardless of cultural background issues. So we may all start out with an innate bias or proclivity that would lead us towards seeking consensus or going it alone independently, but actual workplace context has to be allowed for and its needs addressed too; there is never a single, simple one size fits all resolution to this in how to work more effectively and with others.

I briefly cited two workplace situations at the end of Part 6 where context is crucially important, and I will at least begin this posting by addressing them:

• Working with stakeholders who depend on what you do in meeting their critical needs, and
• Breaking out of old and established patterns in pursuit of novelty and innovation.

I identified the former of these workplace situations as being a fundamentally consensus building activity, and the later of the two as being fundamentally driven by independent thinking and action. Once again, when you consider even seemingly straightforward situations such as these in the real world context of an actual workplace with its ongoing activities and dynamics, a simple one or the other approach can seem cartoon-like too. So my goal here is to consider these work contexts in a bit more detail, and to more fully explore the roles of consensus and independence of action in both of them – which can be more complex and nuanced that just stated. And I begin with working with stakeholders in fulfilling project requirements to meet their needs, and with the consensus side to those workplace relationships.

• When an employee works on a task or project, in effect as an in-house consultant or explicitly in that role, for a stakeholder from a different area on the table of organization, their goal should be to cost-effectively and quickly meet all agreed upon terms of work completion.
• That makes this a fundamentally collaborative work arrangement where the in-house stakeholder who this work is being done for puts in the time and effort to inform the in-house consultant working on this job, precisely what they need and with what priorities, and ideally at least with scheduling and resource requirements and completion date goals that are workable for all concerned.
• I write here of an ideal and perhaps idealistic scenario, where the people who need this work done and the people who would do it and their supervisors on both sides of this arrangement can all come to mutual understandings and agreements and where any delays or complications that arise can be resolved without friction.
• In the real world, schedules slip and resource requirements and availabilities can change. Competing work can and does enter in too, where a stakeholder or assigned members of their work teams might not be available when needed for providing information needed for some step of a task, or for signing off on a step that is at least in principle now completed. People change their minds and do not always communicate clearly even when they hold constant in their views and requirements, or in their availability schedule.
• This is where simple consensus can break down and negotiations between competing interests enter these business arrangements – with need for finding mutually acceptable middle grounds.
• In practice, this type of in-house collaboration always develops out of negotiations, and with further course correcting negotiations always a possibility – between individualistic parties, each with their own goals and priorities and their own levels of acceptable commitment to this specific collaborative work at hand.

Now let’s consider the innovator or inventor – an activity that at first glance looks to be a fairly pure example of rugged individualism in the workplace, and certainly when they seek to develop disruptively new, revolutionary innovative change.

• When an innovator works alone in their own workshop and as their own boss, they might make all of the decisions as to what to work on and with what priority and with what level of resource commitment, direct cash outlay included. But even then, if they hope to make a product that is marketable, they have to design and build in terms of marketplace needs and real world buyers’ interests and priorities. So even if they develop their ideas into new realized product offerings in secret, they still have to listen to the marketplace and be aware of what it could be brought to buy, and at what price point. Collaboration, at least in effect enters here.
• When this innovator works as an employee of a larger organization, and regardless of level on its table of organization or title held, they are still likely going to need to more actively collaborate too, and both in arguing the case for expending time and resources on this work, and for moving the fruits of their innovative labor out of the laboratory and research setting, and into marketable production.
• I have already written fairly extensively about that process in this blog and cite some relevant references to that here for connecting background information. See, for example, my series: Keeping Innovation Fresh at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and loosely following for Parts 1-16. And also see Innovators, Innovation Teams and the Innovation Process, starting on that same directory page and continuing onto its page 3 continuation as postings 366 and loosely following, for its Parts 1-19.

My point here is that:

• There is always a need to find a proper balance between consensus building and meeting more individual and even individualistic needs and priorities,
• And even under circumstances where one of these approaches would seem to predominate and even for all intents and purposes fully so.

I am going to conclude this series at this point, at least for now. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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