In June, I wrote about why leaders in many situations would be better off acting as benevolent dictators. I remarked in that post that, “when decisions are made by committee or consensus, debates slow down progress and the vision that drives things forward is diluted by too many voices.” I wanted to flesh this out a bit more, especially because I recently read a blog post by Hunter Walk that elaborated on the same.
Walk argues that “we often confuse ‘collaboration’ with ‘consensus.’ The former is about engaging a group of people to work together and discuss ideas… The best leaders are not concerned with consensus.”
One of the biggest issues with collaboration today is the persistence of the confusion Walk describes. When we want to collaborate, we hold meetings and try to brainstorm as a group, but Jake Knapp cites a number of studies that show that “individuals working on their own are emphatically better at problem-solving than teams of brainstormers. And yet, we keep right on brainstorming.” Brainstorming often creates impasses because it, by definition, requires consensus to move forward, which slows things down and waters down the vision.
Instead of brainstorming, the best way to work is generate ideas independently and then iterate upon them as a team. To go back to Walk: “Everyone has a chance to express [their] opinion but if you look for consensus you get watered down BS. You start to run your company like Congress – ‘ok Jim, what does this bill need to have to get your vote.'”
To make sure everything runs swiftly and smoothly in a collaboration-driven rather than consensus-driven environment, a decider is required. The decider is, to some degree, a combination of moderator, visionary, and dictator. They balance the various views of collaborators while keeping the big picture in mind; they use these various angles on a problem to make a final decision.
As Walk concludes, empowered deciders “don’t end meetings asking if everyone agrees, they make sure everyone understands the decision and the plan. ‘Does everyone know what they need to do next’ is a good question. ‘Does everyone have what they need to execute successfully’ is a great question. ‘Do we all agree’ is a terrible one.”
What I’m realizing now is that all of this depends on trust. Decider-driven collaboration doesn’t work unless a team has deep trust, but I think that’s a topic I’ll return to another day.