strategy and business

How to Collaborate When You Don’t Have Consensus

On a rainy afternoon in 2016, I was leading a workshop to advance local development in Colombia; the meeting was one result of new peace accords that had ended 52 years of civil war. The atmosphere was tense and alert, as you might expect when leaders who bitterly opposed one another have gathered to work on their most crucial and difficult mutual problems. They were there because they knew that if they didn’t find a way to work together, the reconciliation and growth the country desperately needed might never take place.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere?” a former guerrilla commander asked a woman sitting near me.

“Yes,” she said. “I gave you money to ransom my kidnapped daughter.”

Most business confrontations aren’t this dramatic. But lessons from extreme cases can be useful in more ordinary situations. Maybe you wouldn’t use the term enemies to describe the difficult people you need to collaborate with, but you might not agree with, like, or trust them. Circumstances might be veering out of control, and conflicts might be seemingly unresolvable. How do you move forward in situations like these? The conventional model of collaboration in business is to go to a lot of meetings to try to get agreement on five things:

• What is our common purpose?

• What is the problem?

• What is the solution to the problem?

• What is the plan to execute the solution?

• Who needs to do what to execute the plan?

Answering these

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