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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

The Difference Between Alignment and Consensus in Teams

As you know, I have written before about the difference between teams and committees. Most leaders think they have teams but in reality, especially at the executive level, they have committees.

One major distinguishing characteristic is committees look for consensus and teams commit to alignment.

What's the difference you ask?

Committees are made up of people who are there to represent different constituencies and interests. Each member has their own agenda to push and promote. They are mainly interested in getting their own direction and items approved and advanced.

Teams are made up of people who are there in representation of vital areas of an organization, but they have a shared agenda, which should be driving the success of the entire organization.

Because the agendas and interests are different, how they proceed is also different. Consensus is really important to committees. Coaxing the other members to vote to proceed with your agenda and interests is the goal. They strive to make sure everyone "signs off" on proceeding with their particular individual direction. That way, if everyone agrees with the decision, then there is little accountability on the decision, because everyone agreed, and we reached consensus or at least a quorum majority. Typically, committees have very little trust between the members, so reaching a consensus requires much more time and discussion and while they are having endless conversations and debates trying to reach a consensus, they lose valuable resources and time while they miss the opportunity to deliver value because the circumstances and timing has changed.

Well put together teams have an abundance of trust with each other. The members are very mature in their thinking and behavior in order to have a shared agenda to benefit the organization. In alignment, everyone may not agree strictly on the direction of the decision, but they trust each other enough and are mature enough to work very hard to make the decision work to deliver value and results to the organization. They do not allow their differences to block or slow down the decision process. They do not proceed in begrudging compliance. They do not proceed waiting for their "I agree but I could have told you this wouldn't work" attitude. They leave fully committed to be in alignment to make it work in support of their teammate and team.

Well-functioning teams don't waste time trying to get everyone to agree. They negotiate their opinions and perhaps improve the decision, but they get to a place where they agree to agree, align and move forward. Every team is made up of people who have valuable opinions, knowledge and experience. A seasoned and smart leader can leverage all that into a well aligned and successful decision. Weak leaders rely on a majority vote by everyone as a way to establish agreement and forward movement. Strong leaders encourage plenty of discussion by talented and knowledgeable people who are mature enough to reach a decision with alignment.

One additional thought for you as the leader of a team. Reaching alignment is not a one-time thing with your team. It will require skill and attention. Reaching a state of sustained alignment is an ongoing journey. The thing you can count on, however, is they have agreed to be a part of an aligned team and you can hold them to their word and character.

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