Why Consensus Kills Team Building – Teamwork Matters

Mike Myatt

Teamwork Matters

Teamwork Matters
I read an interesting post last night by Dan Rockwell entitled “Six ways to make teams work” and found myself in complete agreement with Dan on 5 out of the 6 points. Where Dan lost me was on point #4 – Teams Decide by Consensus. In recent months I have observed a decent amount of politically correct discourse on the topic of team building and equality. The gist of the argument seems to be that for teams to be productive, employees have to feel “empowered” by having an equal voice. I can sum-up my feeling on this in one word…ridiculous. To be blunt, the concept of equality in the workplace has only made team building more difficult as employees seem to have a sense of undeserved entitlement with regard to their roles and responsibilities. And as odd as it may sound, one of the greatest impediments to building productive teams is practicing management by consensus. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on team building and equality…

Before I start, let me point out that I hold Dan in high esteem and find myself in agreement with him much more often than not. He is one of my favorite leadership bloggers, and hopefully we’ll still be on speaking terms after this post. That said, let me be as direct as possible with my next statement – While all people may be created equal, they are certainly not all equals in the workplace. While the thought that all employees should have an equal say may get some air time in business school, I have found that often times the theoretical discussions that take place in halls of academia have little to do with the realities that exist in the world of business. You must also keep in mind that the classroom is one of the few remaining bastions of true equality (at least until the grades are posted). The business world is not fair…it is regrettably most times rather merciless. In a highly productive organization the power and influence of your voice is earned through trust and performance, and not entitlement.

Team building basics are often overlooked by ineffective leaders or unproductive companies. However great leaders and highly productive organizations always focus on team building as a key priority. I have found that highly productive executives and companies clearly understand the value, leverage, efficiency, and economies of scale that are generated by assembling highly focused, motivated, and productive teams. If you are a CEO or entrepreneur and don’t see team building as a priority, then the text the follows is written for you.

I’ve often said that theory without action amounts to little more than useless rhetoric, and while most companies are spinning their wheels pontificating on the merits of team building, it is the truly great organizations that put theory into practice. Great leaders intrinsically understand that team building catalyzes collaboration, creates both disruptive and incremental innovation, facilitates a certainty of execution, and is one of the key foundational elements associated with creating a dynamic corporate culture.

It is one thing to be able to recruit talent, something altogether different to properly deploy individual talent, and quite another thing to have your talent play nicely in collaboration with one another. It is the responsibility of executive leadership to set the tone for great teamwork by putting forth a clearly articulated vision, and then aligning every aspect of strategic and tactical decisioning with said vision. A lack of clarity, the presence of ambiguity, obviously flawed business logic, or constantly shifting priorities/positions are the death of many a venture. However CEOs that implement a well thought out and clearly articulated vision, create a sense of stability and a bond of trust amongst the ranks. This in turn leads to a very focused, coordinated, and ultimately a very passionate work environment. It is not too difficult to get your crew all oaring together when these characteristics are firmly in place because they now know which direction to row.

I have been generally well regarded throughout my career for building extremely effective teams, and what I can share with you is that team building is not about equality at all. Rather team building is about alignment of vision with expectations, getting team members to understand exactly what their roles are, and making sure they have the right resources to perform said duties with exacting precision. Building productive teams is about placing the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Team building should have nothing to do with ego, tenure or titles, but rather it should be all about competency, collaboration and productivity. Leaders must clearly communicate to team members what their duties, roles, and responsibilities are, as well as setting forth a road map for performance expectations. Team building, group dynamics, talent management, leadership development, and any number of other functional areas are much more about clarity, focus, aligning expectations, and defining roles than creating equality. If you examine the most effective teams in the real world you’ll find numerous examples which support the thoughts being espoused in this text.

Whether you look at athletic teams, military teams, executive teams, management teams, technical teams, design teams, functional teams, or any other team, you’ll find that the best of the best have structure, a hierarchy of leadership, a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations, clear and open lines of communication, well established decisioning protocol, and many other key principals, but nowhere is equality found as a key success metric for teams. Decisioning by consensus usually results in no decision being made, or an intellectually dishonest, watered-down decision that is so full of compromises, hedges and caveats that a non-decision might have been preferable.

While I’m a true believer in candor in the workplace, and have always encouraged feedback and input at every level of an organization, this doesn’t mean that everyone has an equal say, because they don’t…Moreover, those that hold less of a vested interest, that don’t have as much as risk, that don’t have the experience, or those that may be looking out for self-interest more than the greater corporate good should not be considered equal with those that do…

While I concur that there is no “I” in team and many other statements to that effect, such statements are not meant as endorsements for management by consensus. They are simply meant to foster a spirit of cooperation. Understanding how to lead and motivate groups and teams should not be considered one in the same with creating false perceptions of equality that don’t exist. Real leadership means knowing when you should make the decision and when you should let others make the decision. Smart leaders may choose from time-to-time to give away authority, but they never give away responsibility – ultimately they own the decision regardless of who makes it and/or how it’s made.

Bottom Line: Show me any team created of equals and I’ll show you a team that will never reach its full potential…

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Do Corporate Team-Building Events Really Work?

By Lindsay Olson

We’ve all heard those stories about work teams heading out to the wilderness to perform team-building activities involving bungee cords and rock-climbing walls. But do these gimmicks actually help teams communicate better?

The truth is, while results vary, team-building events can help co-workers better understand one another and learn to be more effective at working together. Team-building exercises allow management and staff to forget about deadlines and corporate structure and focus on socializing informally. These exercises can also help employees work on more serious issues, such as learning problem-solving techniques and improving communication skills. This all helps them to build trust, which goes a long way toward achieving better communication.


What Not to Do

All that being said, sometimes the best efforts to connect a team fail. These tend to be the events planned by executives who don’t understand the team climate. For example, if there are personal conflicts on a team, inviting them to play paintball may only serve to increase hostility and competition rather than eliminate those feelings. It’s important to take into consideration how the team interacts currently and plan non-competitive activities that break through existing issues. If co-workers rarely speak to one another, focus on communication exercises. If trust is an issue, focus on activities designed to increase trust among team members.

Activities that everyone hates will also not go far in building trust. Childish activities like sing-alongs and rope climbing may distract employees from their work relationships, but if they resent having to be there, they won’t open up to improving the lines of communication.

Also, one-size-fits-all solutions do little to target your team’s specific issues. While starting with existing exercises is fine, customize them to fit your team’s needs. And creating activities to deal with a specific behavior issue is overkill. If you have a situation between two co-workers, handle it directly rather than spreading your desire for everyone to get along to the entire team.

Lastly, part of successful team building comes from a continuous focus. Planning one annual event does little for the group’s long-term success. A corporate culture integrating regular team-building exercises and allowing employees to connect and learn to trust each other will far better serve the group and organization than a big annual event.


When creating team-building events or exercises, be sure to take these factors into consideration:

  • What’s the overall team climate (is it hostile? Indifferent?)?
  • How much will management be involved (support from management helps reinforce the team building)?
  • How long will it take (will workers resent being away from their families overnight?)?
  • What’s the goal


Where to Team Build

You don’t need to schedule a weekend retreat complete with a trapeze to get the job done. You can set up a series of events in your office during hours that an entire team can stop work.

Focus on events that will zero in on the goals you set for the effort. Consider bringing in a consultant to analyze the team you want to help and recommend the best course for creating better engagement among co-workers.

Team building, if thought through carefully, can help your team become better at communicating and interacting. Take into consideration the team’s specific needs when planning a program.

Lindsay Olson