The First Line Manager: Consensus Decisions Versus Collaborative Decisions

What is the effect of a consensus or collaborative decision on a first line managers department? The difference in the processes has a tremendous impact on the decisions effectiveness. Consensus is a committee process. Collaboration is a team process. When a company or department is failing it looks for a leader not a committee to make the turn around.

When I think of a consensus decision, my training is that the committee or group comes to a consensus decision without taking a vote. The committee hashes out the problem until they reach a consensus decision on the work process to solve a problem.

I am a member of a corporate committee. We carry out an employee process company wide. The process is how we dispatch trouble orders to lineman. Each lineman’s identification number ties him to his division. We discuss how we will handle lineman identification numbers when they travel to work in other divisions. I suggest we keep the same employee identification, just change the division for them in the computer program. The head of the committee wants to create spare identification numbers in each division. The visiting employee will use these spare numbers. This means the employee must sign into a new identification number in another division. I am the only member who wants the lineman to keep his personal identification number. We reach a consensus to create spare identification numbers for each division. The chairman wants this decision on the process; the other members agree. The committee makes a consensus decision.

A couple of years go by, we have a major storm in my division. Linemen from other divisions come to our division. I assign the division spare identification numbers to the lineman. They have log on problems and identification number issues. It takes several hours to get this reconciled. The next day different linemen come to help. I get with one of our operators. We test how we can use the employees existing identification number in our division. We can make it work. I tell the lineman and their supervisors we will not change any identification numbers. The linemen use their identification. Now, the supervisors can track their linemen and send them emails. We develop this process further during the storm. Everyone provides suggestions for the new process. Now we use this new process for all employees working in other divisions. It works great.

My wife asked me, “Who gave you permission to make this change?” I said, “I did.”

The new process is effective because the employees in my division with the help of the lineman supervisors collaborated to create the process. The process works because the employees who make our system work know what is best. This is the difference between a committee making a consensus decision and employees collaborating to make a process. Since we were closer to the work being performed we know how to best serve our needs.

A consensus committee decision is a static decision on a process. This decision may not fit the work processes. Collaboration is an ongoing process. Collaboration seeks to continuously improve work processes. Good employee work teams know how to collaborate to make effective decisions.

First line supervisors meet their departments objectives by using collaboration. This may mean they must challenge a consensus decision of a corporate committee. Sometimes, first line managers must take chances to change the consensus process. This takes courage.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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