Engines of Democracy | Fast Company

    Part of his education at GE/Durham has involved something that many teams stumble over: how to get around the truism that committees don’t make decisions, people do. At GE/Durham, virtually every decision is made by a team, by consensus. Consensus is another of the founding principles of GE/Durham. It is so ingrained that technicians have turned consensus into a verb: The people at the plant routinely talk about “consensing” on something.

    The average group of 15 or 16 people can’t reach consensus on where to go for lunch — let alone how to run a factory. How to organize a production line, whether to hire someone, how to assess someone’s skills for promotion, even how to pick who will work over the weekend — those kinds of issues inspire strong disagreement. “Everybody doesn’t see things in the same way,” says Williams. “But we’ve had training on how to reach consensus. We’ve had training on how to live with ideas that we might not necessarily agree with.” And the team members always have the power to change things that don’t work out. Says Williams: “All the things you normally fuss and moan about to yourself and your buddies — well, we have a chance to do something about them. I can’t say, ‘They’ don’t know what’s going on, or, ‘They’ made a bad decision. I am ‘they.’ “

    From Teams to Tribes

    “Teams,” “teamwork,” “teaming” — these are such overused words, such overworked concepts, that they have been all but drained of meaning. GE/Durham isn’t so much a team environment as it is a tribal community. There are rules, rituals, and folklore; there is tribal loyalty and tribal accountability. There is a connection to a wider world, beyond the tribe.

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