Vail Daily column: Collaboration beats consensus
February 18, 2016
Increasing how well organizations, businesses, local governments and special districts collaborate is a great opportunity for our community. It also requires a community champion to bring disparate stakeholders to the table.
Vail Valley Partnership continues to play a leadership role in the process of building trust between these various geographic and economic sectors in order to enhance the economic vitality of the Vail Valley. We do this through our programming (Vail Valley Merchant Alliance, Vail Valley Economic Development, MyPartner Career Network) and by working together with various workforce partners and nonprofits.
We believe in collaboration — hard as it might be at times — so much that we've updated our mission to focus on collaboration for community success. After all, we might disagree on issues, but we can all agree that community success is a worthwhile goal.
Community success can't occur without collaboration, without working together on the issues that impact our success and our economic growth. Collaboration is essential in our region, as Vail Pass to Gypsum is one economic trade zone that consists of multiple municipalities and numerous special districts. Our challenges — transit, air service, affordable housing, broadband service, workforce development, among others — cannot be solved individually. These challenges require collaboration and buy-in from towns, special districts, governments, businesses, nonprofits and other stakeholders.
But there is one toxic mindset that can inhibit collaboration's potential: Many individuals confuse collaboration with consensus. Consensus strives to make everyone happy, while collaboration is about achieving the best outcome. As community leaders, it is vital to recognize that consensus is the enemy of collaboration. We simply can't make everyone happy if we want to truly move the needle on issues of importance.
Consensus exists because we are inherently conflict-averse. We don't like perceived conflict or differences of opinion, especially when we interact in group settings. We inevitably know we will see people we might disagree with at the post office or grocery store, and no one wants to be perceived as the bad guy. It is ok to disagree without being disagreeable, yet we're often afraid to disagree with someone and so we settle for consensus.
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It runs against conventional wisdom to say it, but creativity, innovation, progress and solid ideas face an uphill battle when their survival depends on consensus. Agreement becomes more important than outcomes and progress toward goals is lost.
Community success, much like business success, depends on new ideas and creative approaches that are accepted or rejected on their value, not on politics or allegiance to how we've always done things.
Business owners know that doing nothing is not a strategy. Consensus often results in stagnation and creates an environment that is risk-averse; progress requires a culture that embraces the idea that it sometimes necessary to step beyond what's familiar and trust in the knowledge and experience of others for success.
That leads back to the need for collaboration and not consensus. Sometimes when we say collaboration, people believe it's an opportunity to hold hands and sing "kumbaya" around the campfire. Morten Hansen's book, "Collaboration", dispels this notion when he writes, "The goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but great results." That's the difference. Great results — verses consensus, in which the result is everyone feeling pleased.
In the constantly changing environment in which we work, collaboration provides the constructive conflict, buy-in and progress that are necessary to succeed. Conversely, consensus is a recipe for kicking the can down the road. The next time someone in a meeting suggests the need for consensus, push back and focus on the benefits of collaboration versus the pitfalls of consensus.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.
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