Navigating the Challenges of Consensus-Driven Decision Making for Change Management
Balancing Communication, Collaboration, and Compromise to Achieve Successful Outcomes
📊 DELIVER: Driving Results
For my first series of Substack writings, I’m going through some of my old writings and continuing my experimentation with ChatGPT. That is, I’m asking it to act as a “fallacy finder, to provide evidence-based feedback and point out any fallacies, faulty reasoning, false assumptions, or incorrect conclusions” on all my original write-ups (hat tip Sam Szuchan). At some point in the future, I’ll conclude my experiments with lessons learned for those that communicate for a living…or I’ll simply apologize to all my English and writing teachers and professors.
Experiment #1: Consensus-driven decision making vs. change.
My original write up:
“I have consistently observed that consensus based thinking results in actions that deliver the lowest common solution. Rarely have I seen consensus -- or large committee -- based discussions deliver breakthrough thinking, ideas, products, etc.; and there are countless studies that support small teams versus large teams.
Now, as a change practitioner of many years (too many perhaps), I am becoming more convinced that consensus based thinking is antithetical to ANY change; i.e., the lowest common solution is to not change anything.
By its very nature, change introduces resistance. (Newton’s first law)
People resist change. (Physiology + Psychology; the body/mind prefers a state of equilibrium)
You will rarely/never get EVERYONE to agree on change, especially large groups. (Group size dynamics)
Consensus is meant to eliminate resistance. (By definition)
Therefore, consensus eliminates change.
Thus, whenever I hear someone say, “we need consensus on the change management effort”. I think that’s an oxymoron; I don’t think you can have consensus on change.”
This argument presents a false dilemma by implying that change and consensus are mutually exclusive. Additionally, the use of scientific laws and psychological principles as evidence is oversimplified and does not fully support the argument. Finally, the conclusion that "consensus eliminates change" is not logically derived from the premises presented.
After I recovered from the devastation to my ego. I asked ChatGPT to rewrite the post solving for the false dilemma.
Consensus-based decision making has its challenges, and it is true that large groups may not always lead to breakthrough thinking or bold ideas. However, this does not mean that consensus and change are incompatible. In fact, it is possible to achieve consensus on change through effective communication, collaboration, and compromise.
Change is often met with resistance, and it is understandable that not everyone may agree on the proposed change. However, this resistance can be addressed and managed through a thoughtful and inclusive decision-making process. Achieving consensus on change management efforts can help to build trust, increase buy-in, and ultimately lead to more successful outcomes.
A fairly non-specific response; especially if you go deep into formal change management doctrine which essentially says the same thing: more buy-in = better outcomes. I did, however, highlight in bold the areas that were particularly intriguing to me as I believed it reinforced my original thesis: 1) that consensus-based decision frameworks don’t lead to breakthrough thinking or bold ideas and, 2) that change invites resistance.
I probed further and asked ChatGPT to make a recommendation when effective communication, collaboration, and compromise fail to achieve consensus on the change.
If effective communication, collaboration, and compromise fail to achieve consensus on the change, it may be necessary to consider alternative decision-making methods or seek additional input from stakeholders. In some cases, it may be necessary to make a decision without full agreement from all parties involved. However, it is important to ensure that all perspectives have been heard and that the decision is made in a transparent and equitable manner.
In these situations, it is important to communicate the rationale for the decision and to address any concerns or objections raised by stakeholders. Providing ongoing opportunities for feedback and engagement can help to build trust and mitigate resistance to the change. Additionally, implementing measures to monitor and evaluate the impact of the change can help to build confidence in the decision and demonstrate its benefits to all parties involved.
And now we’ve come full circle. The challenge for leaders is diagnosing how much communication, collaboration, and compromise is needed to arrive at consensus in the first place; then, how will you know when the goal of achieving consensus has failed? This constant swirl is the root cause of analysis paralysis and anti-change inertia.
Net, I remain unconvinced that breakthrough leadership and ideas can be delivered via consensus. I do however agree that focused collaboration / co-creation, transparent communication, and visual management are the fundamental ingredients for a successful transformation change effort.
Well, that was fun. Could I have probed further and further? Sure, but that’s not the point. There are dozens of formal change practitioners and practices out there. My goal was simply to challenge my original thesis against a fairly robust AI platform for directional counter-advice. And that I think is the ultimate utility of ChatGPT. More on that later.
I think for experiment #2, I’ll use a non-business type write up, something uniquely personal to me and see where we end up.