Tag Archives: conversations

Some thoughts on Consensus vs. Collaboration

I’ve been giving some thought to the notion of “consensus building”. When I think of consensus building I imagine a situation where a bunch of people are sitting around debating an issue and the consensus occurs when the people at the table no longer wish to debate and can live with the proposed solution.  I don’t actually have any “official” definition from anywhere to back this up, as the definitions from dictionary.com aren’t too specific. I should mention that the entry in Wikipedia does briefly suggest that consensus “usually involves collaboration, rather than compromise”.

Despite this suggestion from Wikipedia, from my experience I tend to find that discussions around “consensus building” seem to be focused on compromise rather than collaboration. Again, it’s just a gut feel but whether the conversation is facilitated or not I find that the questions in the conversation tend to be along the lines of “if i gave up ‘x’, would you give me ‘y'”? In other words I find the conversations to be subtractive. Ie. how can the proposed solution be pared down until it isn’t disagreeable for most or all of the people in the room. (Apologies for the double negative.) This has to be a less than ideal situation for all parties. Nobody truly wins.

This differs from collaborative conservations which I would suggest are more additive. Ie. lots of “yes, and” with a goal of expressing and building towards an ideal solution for all parties and it would haven been impossible to have achieved individually.  My experience tells me that people leave these types of conversations energized, motivated and confident in their colleagues.

Maybe it’s just some pointless semantic babbling, but I’m thinking that “consensus building” is an oxymoron up there with “army intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp”.

Lo Fidelity vs. Hi Fidelity

My practice as an event designer and facilitator is pretty unique. It’s not the typical way of doing business. I’m part of a team that includes an artist, DJ, website designer, photographer…it’s an experience. People come to the events having never been to one before and can’t quite believe the art, music, the pace of work, etc. In that sense, the experience is very new and “cutting edge.”

delta1.jpgHowever, while the method might be cutting edge, the tools are not. We use simple whiteboards with dry erase markers (made by the fine folks at Kinetic Energies), poster boards, foam core, art supplies, etc. This contrast confuses some people, as they figure we should be using SmartBoards that automatically capture the writing, projectors, internet connections, and lots of other “techie” stuff.

The reason we don’t is because we find that all of that neat stuff becomes a distraction from the task at hand. The projectors, PowerPoint, etc. start to mediate the conversations between people and we feel as though it’s our job to provide the simplest possible environment for the right people to have the right conversations.