How To: Building Consensus

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When it comes to building consensus, it is wise to clarify everything. What does this mean? It means that you have to clarify the decisions you need to make, why, when, and even the consequences. It is wise to do this ahead of time and should be done both in real-time communication and writing. Doing this allows everyone to gather all the resources needed, collect necessary data, give room for discussion, and even look at potential complications as a result.

A good example of Building consensus: –

The executive needs to make a proposal to investors by the end of September to decide if they are willing to continue investing in product A or cut our losses early. On the other hand, we decide to discontinue work on product A, we can shift our efforts, resources, funds, and people to product B. However, this is likely to cost some people work. But if we continue to invest in product A and make a loss, we are likely going to threaten future funding and put people across our organization at risk. We must show investors we are making reasonable decisions based on the information we have before expecting additional funding.

NOTE: sugar coating or glossing over possible outcomes or consequences may have disastrous outcomes. That is because it will make people make hurried decisions that will affect the outcome before they realize or understand the implications. It is wise to give people (everyone) an opportunity to reflect on the implications beforehand. The delphi method is a well know process that seek to avoid these issues.

Come up with an agreement on the benchmarks that everyone involved will use to make a decision. The more rational and measurable, the better it is for everyone involved. Everyone involved should use the same criteria. In the example above, the prospect of job loss may sway people to stick with product A, even if the decision may result in job loss later. Although emotions may play a role in the decision making, using an objective principle like the cost, profits, project revenue, industrial trends, competitive threats, resources allocated, customer satisfaction, economic conditions, and others will result in a well-informed decision people can depend upon.

When it comes to decision-making, it is important to be honest about who plays what role. Do not give people the illusion that they have more power than they actually have. It is wise to make everything transparent, including the person requesting the decision. Do not forget to establish criteria regarding who will provide input, who will give financial approval, who to communicate the decisions, and those who will make recommendations. When people are not sure about the process and the role they are playing, you will be risking commitment input and this will affect the decision reached.

Do not forget to give people the opportunity to weigh before time. Remember, the meeting time is precious, and it should be used wisely. For this reason, it is wise to have people weigh in several days before the meeting. Find a place where it is neutral, and people can actually build on or disagree with each other’s responses. The best thing is that you can prefer to do this either anonymously or by name.

For example: –

The meeting leader can come up with a way to post questions such as; which of the two do you feel confident with (you can only choose one and not both). Identify the information you need beforehand. Do you agree to continue funding project A, what must be done to perfect and prove to investors? Inquire on option questions to come up with a healthy discussion and encourage alternative solutions.

Identify if you need consensus, a decision, or both. If you are looking for a consensus, almost everyone agrees, or do you need just a majority. If reached, does that mean the group has reached a decision? Remember, it is possible to have one without the other.

Using the example above: –

Meeting participants may agree that the executive should recommend they stick with Product A. However, in reality, the executive may end up taking a different recommendation to the investor. On the other hand, the executive may decide to propose to continue investing in product A, without the need to reach a consensus among its ranks.

This is why it is paramount to allocate enough time to have a well-reasoned debate and discussion. Take note, for people to make a sound decision, they need tome to exchange ideas and challenge each other. The amount of time and meetings needed is affected by many factors like the number of people involved, the location of the participants, the complexity of the whole process, and the number of discussions taking place. to use the time efficiently, one is recommended to break down the discussions into a series of meetings.

It is important to identify when the discussions have reached a point of diminishing return. This is similar to when a jury has disagreements and may lead to a mistrial. The best idea is to start with discussions that all are most likely to agree on. This can be anything like targeted profitability, marketing time, and others. do not hesitate to end the meeting early if people have reached a stalemate. Ask people what additional information they need to make a decision. In a nutshell, it is important to agree on an action plan and a new meeting date.

Do not forget to reflect on cultural differences when deciding on your tactic to reaching an agreement. Some nations thrive on health and feel the best decisions are made by confronting each other about their differences. Some prefer discussing the disagreements in the background. Some prefer voicing their opinion in the presence of the executive, while others prefer reaching each other as peers to make a decision. All in all, take your time to understand the differences and plan accordingly.