You’ve got a meeting on the calendar to make some big decisions for your business. This isn’t something that’s a unilateral decision coming down from the top. This will involve getting a group of executives on the same page and moving toward the same set of goals and objectives. Sure, to date your team has been running like a well-oiled machine, hitting deadlines and smashing goals. While you’re mostly on the same page, there are some indications that there are some different ideas on the topics that will be discussed at this meeting.
Whether you are excited about the prospect of brainstorming and dreaming big with your crew, or you’re concerned about disagreement and debate, be prepared to hone your consensus-building skills ahead of this gathering.
Let’s get one very important thing out of the way upfront: disagreement is not a bad thing. Having a team that can offer different ideas and perspectives is a strength. That is, of course, if you can work through those different ideas to build a consensus. The problems arise when you can’t navigate those variables to come up with one plan the team can support at the end of the process.
What Building a “Consensus” Is and Isn’t
Consensus building involves reaching an agreement or a common idea that the whole team can unanimously support. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets their way in the process. There will be compromise. There will be some ideas that are incorporated and some that are left to the side. Everyone isn’t going to get what they want. Some may get more. Some may get less. The point is that the plan the group adopted is one that the group will present and support from a unified position.
This isn’t about taking a vote and allowing the majority to rule. It's not about making sure everyone is happy and gets what they want. It’s simply about reaching a conclusion everyone is content with. The results would ideally tap into the best components offered, while also addressing the most pressing concerns raised during the discussion, to generate a plan that is acceptable to all invested parties.
Lay a Foundation for Consensus Building
Consensus building begins before the meeting. When you invite your team members to this meeting, be clear about what decision needs to be made, why it’s important, when it needs to be made by, and whose input is needed. Be clear up front that the goal is to reach a consensus and that participants should come to the meeting with ideas and an open mind.
Give it Time
This process requires discussion. Make sure you’ve given your team the time they need to give voice to their ideas and their concerns. Allocate enough time for the meeting (or series of meetings depending on the size of the project) to effectively talk this process through. You don’t want to rush the process and leave some feeling unheard.
Remember, the resulting plan should be one everyone can publicly support and rally behind. Not making space for stakeholders to voice their concerns and ideas will be counterproductive to this goal.
Listen and Be Heard
If you’re running the meeting, but sure to guide the conversation in a way that ensures everyone at the table has the opportunity to contribute. Don’t allow one or two stronger voices to dominate the discussion. Encourage active listening. Ask questions that invite responses from specific individuals.
Focus on Facts and Ideas
It should be a given; however, don’t overlook setting the tone for the meeting by reminding your team to remain respectful during the discussion. There may be disagreement, but such feedback should be about the idea or concept and not the person offering them. Use data and statistics to support statements as much as possible. Sure, there will be some topics that benefit from ideas and gut reactions, but ultimately, “I don’t like it, it’s not my thing” isn’t nearly as helpful as “a recent market survey of our target market found that X% of respondents…”
Ranking Not Voting
When you take a vote, you throw your support behind one option. The option that gets the most votes is the one that wins. That’s not the goal here. Instead, ask your team to rank their options. You may prefer option 3, but option 1 is a close second, you’re also intrigued by option 4, could tolerate option 2, while option 5 is a no-go. By ranking choices, your team may find that most of the group favors option 1 as their first or second choice and while it didn’t garner the most votes straight out, it is an idea that everyone can get behind and feel good about.