Volume 94, January 2009: Consensus Building

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2009 ISSN # 1545-8873

“It is the law of love that rules mankind. Had violence, i.e. hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago. And yet, the tragedy of it is that the so-called civilized men and nations conduct themselves as if the basis of society was violence.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” — Benjamin Franklin

“Most people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.” — Anonymous

“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a joke or worried to death by a frown on the right person’s brow.” — Charles Brower


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Consensus building. The ability to find common ground.
  • Encompassing diversity of opinion.
  • Making sure that everyone has a voice.
  • Holding people to agreements or reworking the agreements.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

If you are in leadership, you are blessed with the richness of differences. Were it not so, you would be surrounded by “yes men” and an absence of creative thinking. Your challenge is to how to coalesce the differences into consensus.

Consensus is a decision making process which equalizes power over a group of people. Consensus means “substantial agreement,” not unanimity or 100% backing.

Using the tools for consensus building, bring people together to express their ideas, clarify areas of agreement and disagreement, and develop shared solutions and resolutions, to which they are committed.

Frequently Asked Questions

“Isn’t it simpler to just vote?”
Instead of simply voting for an item, and having the majority of the group get their way, get all the players together and arrive at a solution to a problem that everyone is ok with.
The majority rule system creates winners and losers. This promotes conflict, and allows the majority opinion to steamroll an idea over a minority that dissents. People in a majority rule system don’t need to listen to the dissenting minority, or take their opinion seriously, because they can simply outvote them. Majority rule systems say that the majority is infallible and they have nothing to learn from the minority.
In the end, you will not have commitment of the whole and the issue will likely resurface. You have achieved consensus when everyone leaves the room and agrees to support the idea.
“Can you achieve consensus in large groups?”
Truly it is easier to reach consensus in a small group (under 20). But it is possible to mimic the small group environment by use of table teams, pods, business units, focus groups, and other smaller gatherings. Still, I have seen groups as large as 100+ float around flipcharts, using consensus decision making tools successfully.
“What are the consensus decision making tools?”
At least one tool that generates ideas (brain-storming, nominal group technique, cause and effect diagrams, affinity tool) and one that winnows or narrows down ideas (multi-vote, rank order, structured discussion). The critical principle is to “generate ideas before deciding” – diverge before converging. Another critical piece is to have criteria for narrowing down ideas and deciding, e.g., “must be cost-effective.” The group must agree beforehand to the criteria.
In our Team and Leadership courses, we teach people how to achieve consensus decision making on one flipchart page grid with Post-its. (See Key, M. K. Using the grid structure to apply consensus decision making tools. The H.R. Handbook , 1996.)
“Are there principles for conducting a consensus process?”
Most certainly.
  • Speak one at a time.
  • Pass if you don’t have an idea.
  • Give your own perspective, no mind-reading.
  • Listen deeply.
  • Generate many ideas before deciding.
  • Don’t evaluate ideas at first, just clarify.
  • Separate the person from the issue.
  • Treat one another with respect and dignity.
  • Give all parties equal time to talk.
  • Stick to the chosen process.
  • Build and maintain a public record.
  • Think creatively and inclusively (win-win).

Exercises and Action Items

  • Go to MindTools and learn some new tools (see Problem Solving and Decision Making).
  • Flowchart your process of decision making, before you use it and see if it invites consensus.
  • Evaluate each decision making process: Is it command, consultative, or consensus? Be clear which one with others involved and don't change the model without telling them.


Excellent description of a consensus-building process: A Short Guide To Consensus Building.

A simpler way: Consensus Building.

Some guidelines: Process Guide #2: Building Consensus.

and additional guidelines: Consensus – How to and Why.

Key Associates facilitates Mediation of Conflict and teaches the leadership tools of consensus decision making. Contact us for more information.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Index of articles and links: Conflict, change, and consensus building: articles and links.

A clever Tool Kit to give to participants: Consensus Building A Table Guide & Tool Kit.

A tool using fists and fingers to peacefully express sentiment: Fist-to-Five Consensus-Building.

A simple PowerPoint on the subject: Consensus Slides.

Keyzines on related topics: Mediating Conflict, Meetings, Teams, Facilitation, Effective Listening, Dialogue: Thinking Together, Building Community, Convening People, and Coalition Building.



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