Eating ice cream

Consensus for ice cream!

Consensus decisions are the output of a process in which a team or group finds a solution that everyone can either actively support or live with. Getting from the need to create a decision to the decision is where the magic (or at least the hard work) happens. The steps a facilitator takes in generating a consensus decision include:

  1. Identifying what the team will decide. Develop a clear outline to help a team or group to frame the scope of the decision. State the need for everyone to understand by pinpointing the priorities.
  2. Visualize what a positive outcome looks like. Visualization provides a mental model of what a successful consensus looks like and how it impacts the team. Use the process of visualization to mentally role-play getting to a consensus in your mind. This is a critical step not only for the facilitator but the whole team. Facilitators use mental models to guide, and team members use mental models to create a goal. Questions are a tool to generate a mental model. Two questions I have found useful are:
    1. What is the ideal or best outcome possible?
    2. What does the path to attaining that outcome look like?

Every facilitator needs to have a set of framing questions to generate a mental model and should refresh that list periodically.

3. Decide how your group will complete a decision. A consensus process allows a group to generate as much agreement as possible. Consensus requires some portion of the team to provide consent. There is a number of mechanisms to establish consensus and then test consent.

4. Develop an agenda for the meeting. The outline and the technique (step 3) are important inputs into the agenda. Agendas keep the team focused and on track. Agendas allow a facilitator to maintain control and focus on the purpose of the discussion,  and allow team members to pour their creativity into generating ideas, concerns, and synthesis.

The facilitator and everyone on the team needs to understand the concept of consent before they agree on a consensus. Every team member needs to give their “permission” for the agreement to exist. Consenting does not mean that every person got their first choice or even everything they wanted, but it does mean that everyone, using the foundation of the good of the whole group, can live with and support the decision. Agreeing with the decision and then acting in a passive-aggressive manner is not consent.

5. Execute the agenda using the technique chosen for creating a consensus. This is the step where the magic happens. Useful structured and unstructured techniques to generate consensus include:

  1. Brainstorming and listing
  2. Multi-voting
  3. Facilitated conversation
  4. Roman voting
  5. Unstructured conversation

All of these techniques include discussion and synthesis to generate a decision that everyone can live with and support. We will explore the techniques in the next essay.

6. Put the decision in place! Since everyone on the team has consented to the decision, everyone on the team performs their role in the implementation and supports their teammates as they perform their role.

The six steps identified along with using a structured/formal meeting technique will feel very heavy to some. When making hard or risky decisions each step might need to be carefully and discretely played out. When making common, low-risk decisions teams will still go through the steps based on unconscious muscle memory. Missing any of the steps can result in parts of the team feeling unappreciated and/or cut off.