March 2017 ~ Consensus Building
March 2017 ~ Consensus Building
As we move from autocratic decision-making to more mature ways of doing business, learning how to achieve consensus becomes much more important for everyone in an organization.
A few descriptions:
In one organization where I worked for a good number of years, we strived to make major decisions by consensus. Before we agreed on that model, we spent time every two weeks for several months discussing the different types of decision models and the benefits and weaknesses of each. I was responsible for matrix management of staff from 12 different areas of the business so getting 12 different people to agree could be challenging at times.
We found that the process of talking through the various possible models and coming to something we all could live with was very helpful in improving the team dynamics for the entire group. We all listened to each otherís viewpoint, we all learned from each other and we all respected each other. All of those things are critical to consensus making. That doesnít mean that we all agreed on everything that we had to do. We had many lively discussions where different people had very different ideas about what approach we should use.
Because of our commitment to respect and listening to each other, we were able to see more than just our own view and to gain a great benefit from others who saw something we didnít see. The process of using consensus and group dialog does take longer than one person issuing an order.
What I learned most in that environment was that the more we considered all the aspects of a decision before we went ahead, the better the end result. We also made an agreement that we would set a time limit to how long the discussions would take and that a decision had to be reached by <some specified time> so that we didnít become paralyzed by never coming to consensus. We sometimes got to a place where we went ahead and everyone who was part of the group agreed to support the end decision, even if it wasnít exactly as they originally wanted. That is important in keeping a group moving forward.
That all sounds like it makes perfect sense. Where does consensus enter into the decision process?
Consensus decision making makes sure that alternatives are reviewed carefully, that the various options are carefully considered, that the chosen actions are determined by the entire groupís agreement and that everyone can support the final decision.
In choosing alternatives to pursue, do you make an effort to get feedback from the people most directly affected by a possible decision and make sure that input is considered in the decision-making process?
Consensus is not simply taking a vote with the highest alternative winning. Consensus allows for honest consideration of competing alternatives, with a foundation of respect for every individual decision-makerís viewpoint and input.
To make consensus decision making work, there needs to be:
In that way, there is no "winner" or "loser" in a decision Ė it is group decision and everyone wins.
There may also be times when a simple vote is determined to be the deciding factor. Again, the entire group of decision-makers makes the choice about how to determine the final result.
Other examples from my own experience where consensus decision making has had a positive impact: An organization wanted to upgrade a software system that would change the job of many people in the organization. Before a final decision was made on how to implement the new system, a group of employees who would eventually use the system were asked to be part of the team evaluating new software. They were able to have regular discussions about how the new software will change their job and what their new job duties would be. They were able to test the software and provide feedback on it before it was finalized. Their feedback was carefully considered all along the project. Some of the original management thoughts about job duties was changed significantly after employees in those jobs shared their views.
I have seen many computer projects that did not include end users in the decision-making process and when the system was implemented, management was flabbergasted that the staff did not like it or had trouble using it. Some of those projects ended up as huge financial losses for the company because the system didnít work or didnít do what management wanted it to do. And, I have seen many successful projects where end users were included in a project early on and helped to make a project successful because they were able to spot problems early enough to get them corrected and they became cheerleaders for the project and helped their coworkers to adjust to the new system.
Making the effort to get the right people involved takes some time and effort in the beginning. I have never seen it fail to end up with a better product that if the right people had not been involved.
If a team has reached consensus, they should each be able to check themselves by reviewing these 4 points:
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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