Consensus and Commitment … is it there?

Business Process Improvement CourseWhen group members work closely over a long period of time, the members forge a close involvement with each other and they are very committed to what they are doing. They will help each other, personally and professionally. They have clearly established ways of working together that promote staying focused on their task and outcome. These are exceptional experiences and take a long time for members to develop; once experienced, members do not forget them. This level of commitment and group cohesion is harder to develop in a “one shot” situation such as an off-site problem-solving environment because members do not have sufficient time to develop the required relationships and skills.

Groups become successful because a facilitator helped them wrestle with the meaning of being committed to each other and mutually responsible for the outcome of their business problem. Intervention is useful for all groups, even if they are short-term and focused on an immediate business problem.

Groups are an ever-evolving, dynamic entity in need of constant direction and involvement. As a facilitator, try to help them stay focused on their task, connected to each other, and promote a positive outcome. This is a complex process and an understanding of the stages of group development can assist the facilitator in addressing the group’s dynamics by using interventions that help the group balance their task needs and their more human maintenance needs. When groups have the right amount of structure and risk supported behavior, they become cohesive and creative and succeed at solving complex organizational problems.

A process improvement group must reach agreement regarding their findings and recommendations. One method is consensus. Consensus is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” In the context of a process improvement group, consensus is necessary for the team members to support the decisions of the group. Consensus does not mean 100% agreement, which is almost impossible to achieve in any diverse group.

Consensus does mean 100% commitment to decisions achieved by a thorough discussion and participation among team members. Consensus occurs when each member of the team believes that he or she has had a chance to speak, and has been heard. Each member has either persuaded the group to his or her way of thinking, or has accepted the position of the group, possibly with reservation, but always with a commitment to its implementation. This approach to decisions takes time, trust, and willingness to compromise, so don’t expect excellence immediately. Eventually, the consensus building process yields team synergy with the accompanying bottom line results.

There are some practical methods to test the validity of an apparent agreement or consensus. Consensus has been reached when all team members can answer truthfully in the affirmative the following four questions:


1. Do I feel that I have been “listened to” and “understood” by the other members of my team? (Whether or not I have been able to convince them to my point of view is not the issue; only whether I can say honestly that I believe I have been listened to and given the opportunity to fairly present my case.)
2. Do I feel that I have “listened to” and “understood” the opinions and points of view of all other members of the team?
3. In the absence of being persuaded or persuading others to my point of view, can I or others honestly say, “I may be wrong, however I support” the decision of the group.”
4. Outside the team meeting, when asked to explain or defend the decision of the team, can I respond in a manner which supports and explains the decision of the group?

Working toward Consensus
Consider these five guidelines as your group works toward consensus on a particular issue.

1. Avoid arguing for your own priorities. Present your position as lucidly and as logically as possible. Listen to the other members’ reactions and consider them carefully before you press your point.

2. Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose when a discussion reaches a stalemate. Instead, look for the next-most acceptable alternative for all parties.

3. Do not change your mind simply to avoid conflict and to reach agreement and harmony. When agreement seems to come too quickly and easily, be suspicious. Explore the reasons and be sure everyone accepts the solution for similar or complementary reasons.

4. Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, averages, coin-flips, and bargaining. When dissenting members finally agree, do not feel that they must be rewarded by having their own way on some later point.

Differences of opinion are natural and expected. Seek them out and try to involve everyone in the decision process.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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