White Paper 4:
How To Reach Consensus

I. The Compromise Decision

There are basically two ways to make a team decision, compromise and
consensus. A compromise is a way of getting a decision that people can
live with. Generally, the result is only satisfactory. Some words which
describe a compromise are “half-hearted,” “reluctant,” “settlement,”
“concession,” “arrangement”. Despite that, compromises are important
and expedient answers to some problems. The problem with a
compromise is the outcome doesn’t meet everyone’s expectations. In
fact, there are always some losers and winners in a compromise
decision. When that happens, the losers may feel half-hearted and
reluctant about putting that decision into action; the winner become
disenchanted with the effort the others are making. In some ways, a
compromise can plant the seeds of later conflict.

II. Reaching Consensus

On the other hand, certain decisions demand a group commitment to
work. That kind of agreement calls for a consensus. Basically, the
process of consensus involves getting people with different points of
view to start seeing things in a similar way, or at least to begin
narrowing their different perspectives.

In a consensus, if the points of view of each member are considered,
discussed, compared and discussed again, everyone begins to sees all
aspects of the problem. Members begin to learn about others’
perceptions and a decision or approach emerges as differences are
understood and narrowed. This outcome goes beyond something
people can “go along with”. Instead, it is a decision team members
believe in as the truly best way to go, given the circumstances.
Because the issue has been examined, re-examined, tested through
discussion, critiqued and analyzed, all members of the team can “see”
the problem and the solutions from many different points of view.

As you can see, one of the major benefits of a consensus decision is
that it brings team members who start off with differing points of view to
a common understanding of all the issues. In a way, it’s a learning
experience. Through discussion of how members see the problem,
everyone begins to share perceptions. Differences don’t appear as
great as they once did and everyone agrees, given the facts, about the
alternative that makes sense.

III. Suggested Consensus Guidelines and Tips

Here are some ways to narrow differences in points of view among team
members and work towards commitment.

1. Ask each individual how he or she feels about the situation and why.

* Go around the table, give everyone a chance to have their say.

* Stop team members who are dominating discussion and poll everyone

* Ask members who are silent what they think.

2. Ask for facts, definitions or explanations and try to uncover what
different thoughts or words really mean to team members.

* Ask members to explain their views.

* Focus on words, like, “What’s a significant delay?”

* Ask for clarification when faced with questionable statements?

3. Clarify discrepancies of opinion with facts.

* State facts and ask other team members to compare opinions with the

* Summarize competing points of view and ask members to support with

* If there are no available facts, ask members to gather data before

4. Be open-minded. Modify your own views when faced with compelling
facts and opinions.

* Listen to the facts underlying differing points of view.

* Test the facts being presented against your viewpoint.

* Weigh the impact on you and the team of continuing to resist ideas in
the face of convincing facts.

* “Try on” the other point of view and see how it feels. Is it really that
different from yours? Are the consequences acceptable?

5. Identify similarities and differences among the points of view in the

* Make a list of similarities and differences on a flipchart or chalkboard.

* Ask different members to state what is similar about their ideas

* Crystallize the differences among team members in a simple
statement, such as, “It seems some people view cross-selling as a
threat, others see it as an opportunity.”

6. Reinforce open-mindedness—the willingness to listen to other
views—as well as the need for cooperation.

* Remind members about the Team Charter’s rules concerning open
discussion.Give people time to talk. Ensure they have said what is on
their minds.

* Review the team’s production goals if necessary and stress the need
to work together to reach those goals.

7. Remain non-defensive and unemotional when challenged and avoid
angry encounters.

* Stay silent and calm when being criticized. Wait until the other team
member has finished before commenting.

* Take notes reflecting the other team member’s points.

* Summarize the other team member’s opinion in your own words.

* If the meeting is getting emotional, ask for a short recess, try to relax.

* If you can, be empathic with other’s views. Say, “I can understand why
you would say that.”

8. List the positive and negative aspects or consequences of each
point of view.

Assume the team has adopted a particular approach. Ask members to
discuss the advantages and disadvantages. Repeat with the next

Explore the risks associated with each idea. Test how realistic different
people’s assessment of the risks are. “Will we really be causing serious
confusion among ourselves by making independent calls on prime

9. Ensure that each team member has an opportunity to participate.

* Make it a point to ask each member at the meeting what they think.

* Remind members they have a responsibility to speak their minds.

10. Try to define the element of risk associated with every decision and
develop an approach that minimizes that risk for everyone.

* Ask people what concerns them about a specific course of action.
“What do you think will happen if we do this?”

* If concerns are based on a misperception or misunderstanding,
explain the true facts.

* Balance the advantages and risks of each approach.

* Ask the team what level of risk it is willing to accept.

IV. Summary

Here are some concepts worth remembering about reaching decisions
in teams.

* Consensus is one of the most powerful team skills. Members who
understand how to reach consensus find that decisions are fully
supported and implemented. What’s more, members believe in the
group’s decision because the team has examined each facet of the
problem and, through discussion, has finally seen the best way to
proceed, given the circumstances.

* Remember, compromise implies half-heated agreement. There is
doubt, lingering disagreement and the potential for second-guessing
the decision, especially if the results are less than expected.

* The consensus process works when team members take the time to
share perceptions about a decision and what it means to them.
Everyone must be given a chance to describe how they see the issues.
Only after these initial viewpoints are clear can the team proceed to
identify areas of agreement and disagreement.

* Finally, the real key to consensus is for team members to remain
flexible about their point of view. The exchanging of ideas is an
opportunity for team members to learn from each other. An effective
team member tries hard to remain open-minded, non-defensive and
flexible, rather than determined to have his or her way.

Copyright © 2002 Singularity Group, Inc.
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