Consensus – are we there yet?

3 Aug

Consensus is a an interesting word.

The dictionary definition is “general agreement or concord or harmony” which seems pretty easy, yet how do you know that a group has arrived at consensus?

3d render illustration of CONSENSUS word with converging colorful arrows.

If you ask participants in group decision-making what consensus is, they come up with all different answers.

Some think that is means that a majority feels a certain way. And what does that mean? 50% + 1? At least 2/3? Does everyone have to agree without hesitation? Others don’t want to “vote” at all.

And therein lies the problem. With so many different interpretations of the meaning, it is pretty easy to create confusion … and conflict.

So, when I have worked with a group that is embarking on a decision-making journey, the first thing I ask them to do is to define what “consensus” means to them. That way they will know when they arrive there.

And believe you me, that can take as long to come up with that definition as making the final decision. Why?

Because at various points in time during the deliberation process, the proposed decisions need to be held up against the definition of “consensus” to determine whether the group can move on or more work needs to be done. So it’s really important to work out this detail first – before jumping into the content of your discussion.

I thought it might be helpful to share an example of a definition that a group I was working with came up with:

Consensus means that everyone’s input has been considered,

that even if everyone may not love it, everyone can live with it,

and that all of us support advancing the consensus viewpoint as a committee.

Now, I gave them a few suggested drafts that the group mulled over and combined and worksmithed until the definition above was created.

And then it hung on the wall guiding them until their job was done. And in the end, it made it much easier.




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