Search the Lounge


« Conservative "Faculty Lounge" Blogger And President Obama Find Common Ground | Main | Elyn Saks, Southern California Law Professor, Wins MacArthur Genius Grant »

September 21, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Aaron Templer

What a great take on this book as applied to academia. I worked for a business school, a part of a senior leadership team that provided input for a Dean’s search. Your alignment of consensus with that particular pursuit is quite apropos.

Our team, following the suggestion of our Director of Corporate Programs took the time to discuss and agree that we would strive for alignment, not consensus. Consensus can be impossible. Alignment is attainable.

Argue, put issues on the table, trust, and listen. Assuming we can do this professionally, can we all agree to support whatever final recommendation made? Even if we don’t agree, can we support the group’s decision after the process is complete? We agreed that we could, and we moved forward knowing that we were discussing for alignment, not fighting for consensus.

I found this to be a far more effective starting place than assuming consensus was required.

Jacqueline Lipton

Fascinating - could you give a little more detail as to the meaning of "alignment" in this context? I've not heard that term before used in this way.

Aaron Templer

Hi Jacqueline -- I took the idea to be this: consensus is a majority opinion that simply leaves out the minority. Plus, it has little to offer in terms of moving forward constructively. “This is the decision of the group based on the majority opinion and that’s that.”
Alignment focuses on the group’s values. If they’re aligned, then everyone is honored. And it implies that whatever the final outcome of the group’s work is (a decision, a plan, a recommendation) it will be supported by the group. “We might not reach a consensus, but we’re aligned to move forward.”

That’s my take. What do you think?

Jacqui Lipton

Well, maybe we can at least achieve consensus that we can't achieve consensus?
But I do like your idea of "alignment". It seems much better to focus on values and respecting each others' views than on obsessing about everyone getting their way which is obviously an impossibility in most cases.

Aaron Templer

Yeah. And I think it removes some of the desire to pick a side and fight for it. Of course, taking the time to identify and agree to the team's values is the first step. Which if done thoroughly can be a time consuming pursuit.

Jeff Yates

Consensus = people in power say how things will be and goad everyone to admit that it's actually what they want - "you'll take it and say you like it" or alternatively simply claiming consensus but not testing the proposition that it really exists -just my 2 cents - it's just strikes me as more of a rhetorical device than an actual plan or institutional strategy.

Jeff Lipshaw

I have read portions of the book, and I've spent many hours in corporate situations described in it.

Before you get to the question of consensus, you have to ask the question what in academic life constitutes a "team." To me, a team is a group of individuals organized to work or play toward a team outcome or team goal. So in the book you have a corporate leadership "team", nominally organized to achieve the usual corporate goal, which is profitability, and the members of the team bring different skills and backgrounds to the common pursuit. (I think the archetype of team involves different positions with different jobs and skills, as in sports.) The astounding thing in that atmosphere is the extent to which building agreement, or alignment, or shared understandings, or consensus, is still difficult. There are still territories, still egos, still good faith attempts to assert one's professional judgment which appears to others either as recklessness (say, a lawyer's view of a marketing program), or undue conservatism (vice versa).

I'm not sure that, except where a group has a specific deliverable (like a dean search committee), there's much that resembles a team in faculty life.

Moreover, consensus is merely one method of conflict resolution. Others are formal rules (like Robert's Rules), avoidance, empathy, etc. Corporate management teams simply don't take votes the way faculties or faculty committees do. Even most action by boards of directors is by consensus, even if the minutes reflect that as a "vote." ("On motion duly made and seconded, the resolution was approved unanimously." -- Trust me, there wasn't much of a vote.)

Jacqueline Lipton

Jeff - I tend to agree with your analysis. I found it interesting that there is a comment somewhere in the book where Lencioni talks about the model having application to academic organizations, but he doesn't go any further or discuss the differences between a faculty structure and a corporate team.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad