Agreement vs alignment

On consensus and collective decision making, Dale Hunter in her book The Art of Facilitation said: “voting, majority or otherwise, is not a recommended way of reaching a decision in a facilitated group. A more potent version of agreement is alignment…”

The difference between agreement and alignment really stood out to me. Upon further reflection, they are not as synonymous as I had originally believed. Agreement is not always consensual and may be imposed by the majority (via voting) or an individual (by a dictator/someone with ultimate power in a given situation.)

In large and/or divergently-opinionated groups, imposing agreement is expedient and commonly accepted. But not everyone will be aligned. Consensus takes more time and effort, but the alignment achieved will be more enduring than any imposed agreement.

Consensus requires two foundations:

  1. Identify and clarify a Purpose.
  2. Direction to work towards achieving the purpose.

Buy-in is enabled through personal adaptation (personal relevance) of the Purpose and Direction. As such, Purpose and Direction at the highest level of an organisation is necessarily wide and inclusive. This then filters down through the hierarchy in increasingly specific expressions. In other words: broad at the top, focused at the bottom. See my worked example below:

Level

Purpose & Direction

Organisation

To be the number 1 in global alternative energy solutions; through the use of compassionate business practices and practical technologies.

Department

Marketing: To embed in people’s mind our leadership by active supporting the poorest citizens on this planet.
R&D: To create the most practical and real products, using the most commonly available materials and simplest techniques.

Team

Customer service complaints management: We are best at converting frowns into smiles by valuing each person even when we don’t agree with them.

Individual

Media buyer: I am the best at buying the most practical and sustainable media.

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