Q: I like decisive action; I just joined a leadership team that prefers consensus. From my point of view, this style leads to paralysis and missed opportunities. How can I get things moving?
A: Think evolution, not bulldozers, while you build a business case for change.
The inner game
Look at it from your colleagues' perspectives: "Here she comes, new to the role and pushing her way through." Even in a non-consensus-driven organization, you'd likely shut people down and limit your effectiveness. If you don't buy it, observe some overly charged people in action, and notice the body language. You probably see crossed arms, averted gazes, even pushing away from the table to create distance. Do you get these types of reactions? How do you feel about that? Even though you want action, you probably don't want that type of personal responses to your style.
Then consider your strong reaction to consensus. Since you're new to this team, you really haven't had a chance to see if it's an effective strategy or not. Consider whether you're letting prior experiences with other teams have too much influence.
Move on to considering your team's goals. Are they clearly articulated? It's essential that you know what you're there to achieve. And it's also important that you be in accord about these goals; otherwise, you will not be able to send a clear message to your employees or your market. If you are not in alignment (and everyone else is), give some serious thought to whether you are in the right place. On the other hand, stylistic differences can be very valuable, so if you're different in "how" but agree on your goals, you could offer positive disruption.
Consider, for example, "missed opportunities." Those may be in the eyes of the beholder; however, if you can make a fact-based case that the current decisionmaking protocol comes at a cost, you should be able to get some buy-in for change. Factors to include may be the length of time that elapsed between opportunity and decision, and the final outcome — perhaps you lost a client or saw cost increases due to the delay. Also take into account the hours of staff time that go into a consensus decision. Perhaps having a group of senior people in hours of meetings is worth the cost, but keep their hourly rate in mind when you make that assessment.
The outer game
There are some strategies you can try to influence the team style.
Start with low-risk decisions and move to a more individually empowered approach. Give a person or subgroup authority, and then back them. If consensus has evolved as a defensive strategy in the face of a risk-averse culture, this will show up — and will need to be addressed.
Use a cost gauge to track the cost of each individual decision.
Collectively develop some "constructive consensus" ground rules that catch wheel-spinning behavior and help you move forward.
The last word
Just be sure to remain focused on your common goals and don't let impatience get the better of you. If you remain positive and respectful, you'll be much more apt to see the changes you seek.
What challenges do you face at work? Send questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.