As we learned yesterday, watching the stock market tumble in response to Congressional indecision, lack of consensus is a killer. At a national level, it's draining our investments and bringing down the entire economy. On a smaller scale, lack of consensus can kill IT projects.
Many organizations are consensus-driven, which encourages broad groups of stakeholders to provide input into important decisions. By gathering multiple perspectives before taking the leap into action, these organizations scrutinize their decisions and strategies with insight and care. This process is really a type of institutionalized collective intelligence. Informed, thoughtful decisions represent the positive side of consensus-oriented teams.
On the flip side, information gathering through informal socialization can degenerate into a slow and disorganized process. In severe cases, two serious problems arise:
Backdoor lobbying efforts become the focal point for team interaction. Need to accomplish something? Then become buddies with that guy down the hall who says "no" to everything. When team politicking becomes a major project focus, you're screwed.
Urgent matters linger undecided. If the national leadership can't come together on the economic health of the entire nation, what chance does your project have in the face of disagreement and lack of consensus?
If you're the project boss man (or lady), learn to balance consensus with strong leadership. When urgent deadlines loom, someone (meaning you) must make decisions in a timely manner; interfering with the consensus process is sometimes necessary. Push too hard and you'll become a despot manager, despised by all; however, if you don't assert authority appropriately, then you'll drift into mere ineffectiveness. It's a delicate balance.
Finally, be aware that some team members may take advantage of troubled times to push their own self-serving agendas at the team's expense. When you come across these nasty creatures, find a way to get rid of them.