Consensus is the Foundation of Mediocrity

I consider myself somewhat of a “Lifetime Learner” always trying to learn new things and listen to perspectives of other people, even when I have my own opinions. The biggest reason I started studying business as a developer was because I saw the gap growing between business understanding and technical implementation and wanted to do something about it.

Recently I attended a seminar on “Managing Project Teams” where various areas of the project process were discussed in how you can help make the team work effectively together. Something really stood out for me. During the training the discussion moved to negative team dynamics.

The slide went up showing examples of “Negative Team Dynamics” which showed in bullet point examples. Most of the items seemed to make sense as they included things like, “Team Members Refuse to Work Together”. But then there was one that really caught my attention:

Team members disagree about an important topic.

Think about that for a minute… “Team members disagree about an important topic.

For me this couldn’t be more wrong and is a fundamental reason behind teams that just don’t work well together. If teams can’t engage in healthy conflict and disagree on points they will never grow past their preexisting beliefs. All too often the practice of team building encourages the process of finding consensus within the group. In my opinion, consensus is a lie. When you put a bunch of intelligent bright people into a group the last thing that you’ll ever get them to do is agree on an important topic. If they do, the topic either isn’t really that important or your team has been conditioned to “let the matter go” in favor of a sense of consensus.

Of course the team should decide before the discussion how the solution will be decided upon, and it’s important for the team to stick with the selected solution knowing that they have put all of their opinions on the table. Patrick Lencioni talks a great deal about this type of healthy conflict in “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team“.

It frustrates me when I hear the idea of teams and team members that don’t want to stand up for something, that aren’t passionate about a specific solution. Just as I said in Start Standing for Something – be passionate, have an opinion and let that passion pull you into creating something great.

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Start Standing for Something

Around my office I can often be heard saying something that has for me, become a bit of a mantra.

If you want clients to absolutely love you, you have to stand for something. There will be those people that don’t like what you stand for, but the people that follow you – they will absolutely love you.

And I really do honestly believe that. If you don’t stand for something, how do you matter?

The example I always use with my conversation is of course Apple and Microsoft. This is not a conversation about which one is better. It’s simply understanding their approach to their market. Think about it… Microsoft has mass adoption. The majority of computer users use Windows and they further target new clients through mass marketing and mass partnerships with hardware vendors like Dell, HP, and the like. Now consider Apple. They have exclusive use of their software on their own hardware. They focus on early adopters and gadget lovers. They aren’t concerned about mass adoption but rather instead target a certain subculture for their success. They believe that beauty is part of functionality and have clients willing to pay a premium that agree with them.

Rarely have I come across, even in my past history as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, users that absolutely loved their Windows machine. Never have I heard a user talk about how impressed they are with how the start button works or how easy to use Microsoft Word was. But look at the Apple folks… the people even call themselves “fans”. They love everything the company is about. Of course there are many people that dislike Apple and find their products silly, but they rarely matter… because the people that love Apple, absolute love them.

Another thing that fans will do is forgive. If they absolutely love your product they will tend to forgive small mistakes or inconsistencies that might come up. They would rather be involved with helping make something better so they often are the types that will email, or tweet you unsolicitedly with ideas of making the experience better, or even reporting a bug they found. The important thing is they want to be involved. They want to feel like they too are making a little bit of a difference by helping you improve your product so it’s important to listen.

Where Geeks and Business Folks Collide

A complaint I’ve always heard from business people tends to be that their technology group is so opinionated about everything. They have a passion for either a specific language, a technology, or whatever. I say, “learn from this!” The business side should take this as an example of passion, and purpose, and start standing for something from the top. Too many companies just sit there, they do the same things that all the other companies in their industry do. If one company pushes out widgets, the other company tries to make a better widget and then push those out. We are greatly amidst an Experience Economy, where purpose and well-functioning, collaborative teams will be the greatest competitive advantage any organization could ask for. The company that can grasp the power of purpose will breed an environment of passionate people ready to stand up and make a difference.

Ready? Because your competitors are hoping you fail at it. They want you to be as mediocre as they know to be, with a templated mission statement and services that hint at average. Seriously, the world has enough “average”, so start standing for something and evolve – or die.