This isn’t actually testing-related. I’m on the board of a small non-profit organization. We have monthly business meetings wherein we try to figure out where we’re going in the future. We have roughly two factions – those who want to make sure nothing changes, and those who want to change things. Individual members shift position depending on which issue is being examined, which I suppose is not a surprise.

It seems to be an unspoken rule of the group that things are settled by consensus. I say “seems to be” because I am new; all the major decisions we have made during my tenure of a few short months have been unanimous, often with long-suffering looks, big sighs or other signs of annoyance from some of those voting aye, and most often from the people who opposed it. This is a toxic dynamic.

Always requiring consensus creates resentment when someone votes “yes” but means “yes but.” Even worse is someone voting “yes” because they feel they can’t say “no.” This is destructive to the team, the individual, and confidence in leadership (if this were at work, I’d be more likely to dismiss the latter point; an agile team has very little need of a leader in my experience, but that is a different post entirely).

I’d rather have the “yes but” out in the open where it can be addressed instead of having to ferret it out from under the guise of conformity. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to vote no in public – especially if you are the only one voting no! At the same time, voting yes and complaining about it later because you didn’t really want to vote yes is harmful in a number of ways.

Voting no is scary, and if you’re a person who values conformity, can be extremely difficult.
Voting yes when you mean no is a betrayal of your own decision, and possibly a betrayal of your own values.

It kills self-confidence to turn around like that (or at least it does for me.)
It kills confidence in the group to have someone who supported you complaining bitterly to your face about how they wish they hadn’t. How can one trust a vote again if people are not going to vote to the best of their ability to analyze and make decisions, but instead follow along with something they don’t like or even agree with?

Forcing conformity through a perceived norm does all of that. I’m not sure what in the group dynamic means that everything has to have this unspoken conformity, but I want to try to tease it out. We don’t need this.

We need – all of us – the ability to vote no without the cloud of shame hanging over our heads.

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