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So What Exactly is Consensus?

Groups of differing minds often need to find consensus. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees, but rather, that everyone discusses, understands and can make an informed decision to prioritize, move forward, or not. It means being on the same page.

There are excellent ways to have this discussion and come to an agreement on what something means or matters most. Say for example you use a term in your work that’s assumed to be understood. In reality it may mean something different to each member of the group. You won’t know until you have the time to discover this. An example, you can ask: What does it mean for us to be an equitable organization? By asking this question, you will get a variety of answers. Look a little deeper and try to find similarities in what people are saying, and the root of what the group is saying. The consensus is in what the group is saying together, not each and every idea offered up. The group gets a better sense of what is meant when we say….. , and if needed can come up with a common definition that reflects the group.

Recently, I saw two examples of this:

  • One group, which I did not facilitate, did not go through this process. It was clear to me that the term they were discussing still meant something different to each person in the room.

  • The other group is discussing the term in smaller groups throughout their network, and the answers will form their work going forward.

I try not to assume that people know what something means. I love when people offer different definitions or examples than I would; that is the beauty of each perspective. Giving people the time and space to explore and get on the same page will not only build understanding, it will build trust. When everyone has a voice in the defining they can move on with a clear vision of their work going forward.

The process I use is called the Consensus Workshop and takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours, but in this amount of time you will get consensus. This is more efficient than any unstructured brainstorm meeting that goes round-and-round with no resolve. A Consensus Workshop lets all ideas come out, get clustered and discussed in a safe respectful way. The group learns: this is what we mean, this is what we want, or these ideas work best. You can even document it and hold it as a history of the group’s decision or work together. It is a very powerful team-builder.

It is important to facilitate a meaningful discussion that not only honors the voices of the people in the room and gives a broader understanding of what it means to everyone. No wrong answers. If you need to build consensus and need an impartial facilitator to do so- give me a call. If you want to learn to do this yourself, come to the next training we offer in the spring of 2020.


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