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February 27, 2012 / mike54martin

Getting to Yes… Together

It’s easy to make a decision but it’s much harder to get everyone on a team to agree with that decision. Over the years that has led most organizations except the military to move away from command and control into some form of decision making where people at least get a say before final decisions are taken. That has led to a steady increase in the use of consensus building as a means to reach a decision in the workplace.

The consensus model of decision making is much older than modern management. In fact one of the oldest consensus models is from the Iroquois Confederacy Grand Council which traditionally used consensus building to make decisions.  But it also has roots in many North American pioneer movements including the Quakers and the Anabaptists.

During the 1970’s it received a major boost of publicity when it was used by the anti-war and fledging women’s movements but Japanese business had been using this approach for many years before that. Just like many other positive elements of Japanese corporate culture, consensus decision making has been on the rise inNorth Americafor the past 50 years.

Consensus decision making is best utilized when there is a divergence of strong opinions on a weighty matter that has caused dissension in the ranks or when there is a very important strategic decision to be made. When you really have to decide which fork in the road to take then this approach might not only help you make the right decision but it also allows everyone on the team to feel like they have truly participated in the discussion and the outcome.

The consensus model of decision making usually includes an attempt to reach as much agreement as possible by having a discussion and a decision that meets as many of the team’s concerns as possible. Other elements include trying to ensure equal input into the process and allowing all stakeholders to have a say into the process by including their input and suggestions.

One tool which I use in facilitating a consensus comes from the B.C. Labour Development Board and it works in situations it is clear that you do not have full agreement. Once everybody has had a chance to speak and ask questions on a topic then you then you tell them that each person will get one vote on the proposal. Then you call on each person to say where they are on the consensus scale as follows: 

  1. Yes.  I agree completely
  2. OK, I can and will live with this decision.
  3. OK, but … I do not fully concur with the decision, and need to register my view to the group about it.  However, I do not choose to block the decision and will not advocate against it.
  4. No.  I do not agree with the decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision going forward.
  5. I need more information before I can make a decision
  6. I am totally opposed.

Usually this will eliminate most holdouts from what is clearly becoming a consensus and even those who feel strongly against an idea have a way to get out with their pride and ego intact.

This is just one example of how consensus decision making might work and there are many variations on this model and the underlying approach. Try one out for yourself and see how it works. It’s much better then “just do it because I said so!!”

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