Collaboration vs. Consensus

Most organizations are not democracies. Some are flatter or more hierarchical than others, but almost all reserve certain decisions to a small group — managers or leaders. In a multi-stakeholder collaboration, though, is this also true? Many people seem to think the typical norms for decision making go out the window; that all decisions become consensus-based or require unanimity or near unanimity. Not so.

“Governance” is a fancy word for decision-making. The governance methods and processes a multi-stakeholder collaboration chooses to adopt, either formally or informally, codify how it will make decisions. You can choose for your collaboration to make decisions by consensus or unanimously, but you don’t have to. The principle difference between decision-making in a multi-stakeholder collaboration and a typical organization lies in the need to create these rules and periodically revisit them.

When most of us join an organization, the decision-making rules and norms already exist. Even if we never see an employee manual, we pick them up “in the air” from our colleagues. Hierarchies either naturally form, are communicated through social cues, or we learn them through formal induction, e.g., during employee orientation.

Multi-stakeholder collaborations, in contrast, need to undergo their own version of a Constitutional Convention. When the United States of America formed, each of the then-colonies considered themselves independent, sovereign peers. At the Convention they chose to give up some of their independence and sovereignty to a central government on a limited set of topics and agreed to abide by a set of rules concerning those topics as written the Constitution. They also agreed to reserve to themselves all decision-making not explicitly ceded to the central government. The same is true for multi-stakeholder collaborations: the organizations that form them consider themselves sovereign peers and reserve their freedom to operate and make decisions in every other aspect of their existence.

Now, not every collaboration needs an elaborate document. But they all need some set of established and acknowledged set of decision-making norms, which most often will result in the creation of decision-making cadre (e.g., governing boards, collaboration leaders, working groups and chairs, etc). In addition, as the collaboration grows or the people involved turn over, new people coming in will need to receive induction into the agreed upon decision-making rules and processes. Unlike the United States, which inducted its last member over a half-century ago, multi-stakeholder collaborations may need to induct new members every month.

Collaboration does not necessarily mean consensus. Effective collaborations, in fact, have very efficient decision-making processes and strong leadership.

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The course actually aids with more than just collaboration - it helps drive thinking into issue clarification, meeting handling and setting up, communicating with stakeholders. I loved it! - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
"Building up the capacity and capability of nonprofits to make a difference in the world is a core part of the Office Depot Foundation's mission. CollaborateUp had a really big impact on the nonprofits we support, giving them tools and insights they can use immediately." - Mary Wong
I soon discovered that it doesn’t really matter whether your introduction to CollaborateUp is through an issue solving workshop, or at an event as Richard brings all the chaos together with his savvy charm and good humour - the most important thing is that you get to engage and work with these great folks! My biggest take out over the past five years of being a part of their world – collaboration is a process and you’re not going to get very far unless you know what problem you’re all trying to solve together. The CollaborateUp framework helps by asking simple questions to help reveal the big answers. - Cate O’Kane, Founder, &co partnership consultancy
The course was great! Great value and great insights into collaborating with various partners in multiple situations. It really change my thought process and how I view situations with our clients and stakeholders. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
Extremely practical and extremely easy to implement once you have an understanding of the steps and the formula and the requirements of the process. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
"The CollaborateUp Workshop gave our delegates a set of tools they can use immediately to collaborate more effectively across multiple departments and organizations." - Erika Lopez, Global Impact
“Even with a diverse set of stakeholders and a very limited timeframe, the CollaborateUp Formula allowed us cut through a complex set of issues and develop a concrete and pragmatic proposal for tackling a very tough problem. Richard Crespin is exactly what you want in a facilitator, someone able to bring people together to recognize their shared goals and the best ways to achieve them.” - Amit Ronen Director, George Washington University Solar Institute