Using "fait accompli" as a tool is a double edged sword ...

Using "fait accompli" as a tool is a double edged sword ...

Jamie Whitehorn
Jamie Whitehorn

When you are dealing with committees, they can be very frustrating. It can sometimes seem that it takes an age to get anything done. You have to have meetings, present findings, discuss results and possible out comes, reach a consensus or at least majority. Then things happen. The temptation is to try and speed up these processes. It can be done, you can use email and phone to talk to people before meetings. You can try to make sure that all concerns and worries are addressed before hand. That everyone knows what is going on and by and large agrees with it. The important thing is that you engage with everyone and keep them all in the loop so that they feel involved. There shouldn't be any surprises for people even if they don't agree with what is happening, and everyone should be offered the opportunity to have their point of view heard. In short you play the game by the (unspoken) rules.

There is another way to get things done quickly and that is to use fait accompli.

Fait accompli is defined as A thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.

Indeed this was the sometime approach taken by a hero of mine, Grace Hooper, Rear Admiral and computer scientist. It is from her that we get the quotation …

"It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." - Grace Hooper

However like most tools, it needs to be used with skill and precision. The knack is make sure that your finished producted, your thing, is so perfect that it can not be disputed. You also need to achieve it in such a way that you do not upset too many people along the way, and certainly not any people who are critical to what you are trying to achieve.

I was supporting an organisation where this technique was used, and unfortunately the executors didn't get it quite right. They were frustrated and thought things weren't happening fast enough and that things needed to be donenow.

So they ploughed on and did things as they thought they should be done. They used "fait accompli" as their tactic. Do it, and then present people with the result when it's too late for it to be reasonably changed. The problem was their solution wasn't prefect and at least one person on the committee felt it had real issues when they found out what they were doing. Cue committee meetings, defensive arguments, counter proposals, justifications, sides being taken, a lot time being wasted, feathers being ruffled, and for at least one person, the decision that enough was enough and that it was time to leave.

One wonders how much time their "quick" method actually saved ...

The sad thing was, in exactly the same committee a few months before, I'd seen a masterful display of how to get things done by "playing the game". There had been a vote and two people disagreed strongly with the result. They set about to change it. They petitioned people, they spoke to people individually, they primed with arguments, they listened to questions and answered them, they convinced people. The master stroke from my perspective was that at the next committee meeting someone else proposed the re-vote and it went through with a large majority. The people who still disagreed didn't feel too upset - their voice had been heard and they had lost by due process. Nothing had been imposed on them in an underhand manner.

The moral of this? Sometimes there can be good reasons for "the games people play". They can be frustrating, they can be slow, but they can get things done in a way that causes the least possible damage. So if you seek to bypass them, make damn sure you know what you're doing and how to do it.