I am a fan of collaboration. I am confident that participatory planning can reduce blind spots and build buy-in.
But I’ve had a couple of recent experiences in my practice that have left me wondering if that insight and engagement have come at the expense of courage and efficiency.
In some ways this is not surprising. Most people would say that involving too many people in decision-making slows things down, and many would say that it also leads to “lowest common denominator” thinking.
I’ve resisted the first part of this assertion. I’ve argued that establishing clear decision rights and decision-making processes can mitigate some of the risks. That well-facilitated processes are an efficient use of time. That the upsides are worth the potential downsides. That we need to go slowly at the beginning to go quickly at the end.
But my experience lately is making me question the second part. Does participatory decision-making too often lead to bland, safe decisions?
I’m learning that boldness might need to be inserted as an explicit decision-making criterion. Otherwise, even when it is clear who makes the final decision, that person or group might be tempted to lean toward options that have been frequently repeated within the feedback. Common answers may be popular, but they may not necessarily be wise, particularly in rapidly changing, crowded contexts where status quo thinking and predictable approaches are likely to make your work irrelevant or obsolete. Exciting, creative, edgy responses are rarely the ones mentioned most often.
But I’m also not convinced that stating the need to be bold is not enough to make us bold. When it comes to choosing to listen to the outliers, leaders need to lead.
I’d love to hear your ideas about specifically what needs to be true in order for collaborative planning to lead to innovation rather than status quo or stagnation.