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Myth: I am always part of the team

In the Great Recession, it has not been hard to picture the following situation:

  The leadership team of the company is deciding on cost reduction changes to the company. Some of the options may be viewed as inconsistent with stated company values. The leadership team is split on the course of action, yet convinced that if significant changes in financial performance do not occur, the company may fail. However, whatever the decision, the entire company must support it and work together to survive.

 This situation requires a special tool that successful teams use: a “consensus” decision. The key is in the need for all to support and work for together for the successful action. This requirement of unanimous support is in alignment with Webster’s (2nd) definition: “group solidarity in sentiment and belief”. There is a very strong emphasis on the solidarity. In fact, it is “active” solidarity, for once consensus is achieved, the group’s position is solid and unanimous. All disagreement and discussion becomes part of the confidential history of the team. Consensus is usually only required for the most difficult and potentially unpopular decisions.

For a team to be effective, such consensus must respect the integrity of the team. Team members cannot follow the example of today’s politicians: once the meeting is over, individual team members publicly air their disagreement with the decision.  For the team to truly work with high levels of trust, once consensus is achieved, there should be complete solidarity with the outcome by all team members. To all outside the team, it should appear to be a unanimous decision.

This level of agreement requires significant emotional cost: someone may have to support a position that is different than his or her own personal choice.  Because of the cost, this process must only be used rarely, when solid team support is required. Agreement to abide by a consensus must be a requirement for team membership.

To achieve such consensus decision requires complete and open discussion where all opinions are heard. Active listening and mind mapping or brainstorming techniques may be used to capture all points presented and allow for the group to work its way to a solution. Every team member should be allowed to present his or her opinions and supporting reasons.

It is recommended that active listening be used to ensure that all are correctly heard.  This feeling of being heard is critical and discussion should continue until all key participants feel understood.  Understanding does not mean that there will be agreement, although that occasionally happens, and the process eliminates the need for consensus action.

If all discussion is complete and there is still disagreement, the team leader must make a decision for a course of action, which the team then actively supports. This decision may be for a less popular position, as the leader may identify that position as most in line with the values and mission of the team.  Remember, the value of the majority opinion does not determine the decision as it would in a democracy.

This consensus process is useful in reducing the disruptive impact of passive resistance techniques occasionally used by the members not yet fully committed to the team’s success or values.  The unanimous position after consensus reduces the ability to use an emotional situation to manipulate and weaken the role of the team.

 

Have you used this consensus technique?

 

Do you recall a team decision where you wish you had?

 


Myth – Best Practices are Not always the Best.

It would seem that Best Practices, that is, the best way found to do work in an industry, would improve your business. But just the opposite may be true.

 

Best practices are the best of the past.

 

Best practices are good placeholders of how it used to be. At best they can be the backstop that prevents decay into past lower performance levels. Without defined best practices, there is no record of the best of that moment. Best practices are great recognition of the “status quo”.  The problem lies in the comfort that “best” brings.  If I am the “best”, why work harder?  There is no one any better. That may be true today; but it will not be true forever.

 

Before Roger Bannister, there was no sub 4-minute mile. It was believed to be a physical impossibility. Today the world record is 3:43.13 minutes. It took Steve Jobs to convert the “Walkman” into the iPod. Look at the growth in that segment. If you consider smartphones in a similar family, we went from cassette tapes to a miniature computer with more power than a workstation of a decade ago, that we carry in our pockets or purses.

 

Another way best practices limit improvement is when viewed as the best that anyone can do. That makes the best practice the upper limit on performance.

 

This limiting also happens with regulations that specify technological solutions. The regulations specify what is the upper limit on performance at the time, capping any improvement in performance over time. The regulation becomes the target. Any effort expended for performance beyond that required by the regulation is a waste of stockholder resources. So the minimum becomes a target and creates a limit on future improvement.

 

Human nature is lazy. So defining a “Best Practices” can also create complacency. If I use the best practices, then nothing can go wrong. I cannot be faulted in my actions. There is no need for improvement, which is blatantly false.

 

Yes, those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the failures. However, learning is not the rote repetition espoused by the standard testing processes in education today. It is using the lessons of the past to build upon in creating solutions that make step-change improvements to address the causes of the current issues.

 

To make the change that historians  (if only the historians of your company) capture requires understanding and building from the current best practices to create new processes that move the technology forward.

 

Best practices create better starting points for improvement. Continuous improvement makes it better.

 

 

 

So use the Best Practice today; then better it tomorrow.