The Consensus Fallacy and the Need for Alignment

Josephine Conneely shared some thoughts that might seem controversial in The Alignment Fallacy. The basic premise is that the need for full alignment within a team can sometimes hide some deeper problems within an organization:

The need for complete explicit agreements in organisations can reveal a culture which requires you to be on defense (a cover your a*s culture if you will). Alternatively, it can be driven by a culture which suffers from being too collaborative (it happens). Plans which require committee approval get delayed, often never quite leaving that committee discussion stage. Broad stakeholder alignment is a positive thing that should be strived for but there can be limits. High risk, high reward scenarios rarely get complete agreement up front. Instead, they require someone to step up and commit to pursuing that path.

I agree with this take in general, with some nuances I would add to the language. I see alignment as a communication outcome that should happen in any decision-making culture, whether it’s consensus-driven, command-and-control, collaborative, etc. I would say that the situation Josephine describes in the quote above is an issue with relying too heavily on a consensus decision-making style. Importantly, consensus doesn’t necessarily guarantee alignment. How many times have you walked out of a meeting where everyone agreed on a thing and then the next day you’re surprised because it feels like you agreed to a completely different thing?

So I would maybe tweak the language slightly and say the post is a warning against consensus cultures. Alignment is a separate step from the actual decision being made, and an important one. It aims to make sure everyone understands (1) what decision has been made, and (2) what the consequences/next steps of the decision are. That’s needed no matter what your decision-making culture is.