Building consensus? Try standard work.


I recently visited a company that's almost totally consensus-driven. Virtually every decision that influences other groups or functional silos is made through consensus; no one makes decisions by fiat. This is neither good nor bad -- the world is full of successful organizations that are run autocratically. People self-select to work in that kind of environment, and they accept the benefits (speed, autonomy, a sense of progress) as well as the drawbacks. For this company, it works: it's a vital part of their culture, and while it does slow them down a bit, when they actually decide to move, everyone is on board.

But here's the thing: gaining consensus is a grueling process. Meeting after meeting after meeting, usually ending ambiguously with no clear direction and no clear action items to move forward. A nearly unending string of email conversations that are frustrating at best and confusing at worst. Two steps forward and one step back.

What this company is crying out for is a process for building consensus. In fact, let's call it by its lean name: standardized work: a clear method by which a person can build a case for the initiative, communicate it to colleagues, incorporate their feedback, gain their support, and thereby move forward. Slowly, perhaps, but consistently.

Sound familiar? Maybe a bit like an A3?

In fact, I think the A3 is a perfect structure for building consensus. It replaces difficult-to-schedule, bloated meetings with shorter 1:1 meetings between stakeholders. It eliminates turgid Powerpoint decks with a concise story told on one page. And it structures a dialog so that people don't have an opportunity (or at least, less of an opportunity) to climb up on their favorite soapbox and air their grievances about the proposed initiative. In other words, the A3 can help mitigate the downside of consensus-building.

This company -- or any consensus-driven company, for that matter -- probably won't ever be the fastest to market. But once they have a decision, they can act with overwhelming discipline and coordination. And that spells success.

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