The High Cost of Not Gaining Consensus

What would you do if you had 200,000 more dollars to spend this year?  I know what I would do. I’d buy that little house we saw in Mexico last week – the one with the rooftop Jacuzzi.  And, I’m pretty sure that’s not just the tequila talking.

$200,000 is one of those funny amounts. It’s not BIG money; most people couldn’t retire on it.  And maybe it’s not a lot when you are talking rooftop Jacuzzi.  But, it’s A LOT of money in just about any other circumstance!

And that’s what got me thinking about Jim, who heads up a technology team in a big company.  A couple weeks ago, he was lamenting the fact that his company had put a hold on spending for the next few months. Their CEO had issued one of those “spend it like it’s yours” emails.  I always laugh when I hear something like. I don’t know about you, but when I think about a lot of people’s credit card spending, I’m not sure I’d want them spending my money like it’s theirs.

 Jim went on to tell me how he really needs to spend about 200,000 more dollars this year.  He needs to hire some resources to get a project finished and now he doesn’t have the” authority” to do so.

So I said, remember how you told me before that your team often spins on certain topics and decisions for a long time?  How they have meeting after meeting, sometimes for months before decision get made.  How much do you think that is costing you?

Jim shook his head and said he had no idea.  He knew it wasn’t efficient and people complained about it a lot.  It was really frustrating but he didn’t see how that was going to solve his problem.

So I let him on a little secret: there’s your $200,000.

A while back, I got curious about the costs of all this revisiting of decisions and discussions and started poking around. The results were sobering, to say the least. I talked to teams mainly in larger organizations and found that anywhere from 20-30% of time was often spent revisiting, or trying to get to a decision about any number of things.  This isn’t a big scientific paper; it’s just based on handful of discussions so far.

To illustrate, we’ll use a team of 10 people who spend 20% of their time revisiting decisions and ideas for months: 

10 salaried employees, with an average salary of $100,000 equals  $1 million;

They spend 20% of their time revisiting topics and decisions;

20% of $1,000,000 =  $200,000

Hey, that’s a lot of money!  Don’t you think you should get fired for draining $200,000 a year from your company?  Especially is it’s due to missed opportunities and what is essentially, rework?

The thing is, people are great at holding meetings; most of them just aren’t so skilled at getting the right level of alignment and consensus. Most have one or two people dominating the discussion and a bunch of other people barely saying a word.  Time runs out and people run off, usually late, to other meetings.  If you’re lucky, somebody thinks something was decided.  And then another meeting happens and it’s pretty much the same thing all over again.

So Jim and I talked about what he could do.  About how helping his team gain some skills in consensus-oriented facilitation techniques could help them reach decisions people are actually aligned with more quickly.  About empowering the team to know when the risk is low enough to just pull the trigger and spend less time debating.  Now, he’s got the rest of year to deploy these new approaches and start getting that other work done as well. I’m willing to bet he won’t even need that $200,000.

If your organization suffers from having the same meetings over and over, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the opportunities in your team to simplify and go more often (maybe everyone doesn’t get a vote)?
  • How can you gain consensus more readily?
  • How could using a skilled facilitator, or training your team in consensus-based facilitation get you quicker, less costly and more sustainable results?
  • What are you willing to take a stand for?

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