Avoid Team Gridlock! Move Forward Using Consensus


Today, I am co-training one of my favorite two-day courses called ToP Facilitation methods with my incredibly talented colleagues Judy Weddle and Teresa Lingafelter. We have 23 people from 18 different organizations. And, last week I was teaching this course in Wisconsin with my wonderful colleague, Bev Scow at her workplace, Wise Women Gathering Place. It is SO gratifying to see so much interest in people becoming facilitative leaders and using tools to help them get all voices heard and build solid solutions together. And one of the tools we teach is about building consensus. So today’s blog is about what is it, when to use it, why important and how to think about it in general terms. We’ve included a brief video about the basic principle too and some good resources to explore more. (We filmed it outside so apologies for the wind factor). This video is one of 100+ resources we use in our Meetings That Rock course which very soon, we will be offering as a completely self-directed course. Email us if you want to know more.




What is consensus?

Consensus is both a process and a product. I’ve described it based on my own understanding but you can find many good definitions online, in books and in courses.

  • The process involves hearing and analyzing many different perspectives and finding the common underlying interest(s) or agreement behind all the different perspectives.
  • The product is solid agreement or support for a series of strategies, a decision or plan. The process, when done well, tends to ensure that there will be widespread acceptance for the product chosen.

When do you benefit from using a consensus-building process?

Here are a few examples of where we use it:

  • a team or multi-sector group need to think strategically about how to solve a complex problem like e.g., inequities in public health or environmental contamination
  • building collaboration
  • defining common terms for use with a group
  • deciding how to use available funding
  • building a mission statement or shared vision (they are not the same thing)
  • identifying key constraints or barriers to moving forward on any topic

You will really benefit from using consensus when a group has a short amount of time to implement a solution that they need to go “smoothly”.

Does consensus take longer than just informing people of the decision?

I have always remembered my Oregon colleague Tree Bressen’s course on consensus. She drew a diagram and said (This is how I remember it and I hope I am doing her justice):

“You can make a decision immediately and have people resist it a long time, mumble and grumble for long periods of time and even actively sabotage efforts to implement it. OR…, you can take more time upfront to gain understanding and agreement on why and what it will take to move forward. And once the decision is made, elegantly and speedily move into implementation. Which would you prefer?”

Why is it important?

I actually think I’ve answered this question above. But, a few other key reasons include:

  • The process itself has a team-building or collaboration–building effect. Participants suddenly see they are not as “wide apart” in their thinking from others in the group as they initially thought.
  • There is added richness in the product – because all the impacted stakeholders are informing the action or decision.
  • People feel heard, valuable and will gladly accept responsibilities to implement parts or all of the recommendation, decision or strategy.

Where can you learn Consensus?

ToP Facilitation Methods
Come and learn the Consensus Workshop method at the next ToP Facilitation Methods Online course near you!

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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