​"Consensus" is a word frequently tossed about in meetings, supposedly to help a group be successful. A meeting leader or participant, eager to move a decision along and determine if it’s sturdy enough to be implemented, may ask, “Do we have consensus?” Hearing no immediate response, the person may follow-up with what he or she thinks is another way of asking the same question, “Does everyone agree?” Still hearing no response, and eager to move on, it is often assumed that the group members agree and the meeting continues.
If this sounds like any meetings you have attended you are not alone. But silence does not necessarily mean agreement and agreement does not mean consensus. Frequently gaining consensus seems so difficult to achieve, so we may  breeze right by without being sure we have reached it - just hoping no one objects.
While agreement may indicate a willingness to go along with a decision, true consensus represents a group taking ownership of a decision. Ownership means they are more invested in the outcome and implementation of a decision. And that is why we all care about consensus.

As a trained unbiased facilitator, you can ensure objectivity and fairness. Take the time to design and facilitate a good process. To increase the likelihood that consensus is surfaced and reached, I often use the ToPTM (Technology of Participation) Consensus Workshop Method. It creates shared responsibility and offers ample opportunity for all perspectives to be represented. It is a 5-step workshop which typically takes between 30 and 90 minutes. Here's how it works:

  • Context:  Provide a solid foundation by presenting one clear focus question to be answered. Lead a focused conversation to include all participants in surfacing objective, reflective, interpretive and decisional information (Refer to last MeetingSolution blog for more information about the Focused Conversation method)

  • Brainstorm: Have participants brainstorm their ideas individually and then in pairs or triads. Ask them to write their ideas down on 5" x 8" sheets or cards and then post them in easy view for everyone.

  • Cluster: Move similar ideas together into pairs and then groups or ‘clusters.’ Give the clusters temporary ‘tag’ names to assist the group in arranging all their ideas.

  • Name: Once clusters of ideas are formed, ask questions to help the group discover the insights and themes of each cluster. This becomes the consensus of what that group of ideas means to the group. The titles the group comes up with now answers your original focus question.

  • Resolve:  After all clusters are named, read the titles and discuss the meaning of these answers to explore next steps. If this process is skillfully led, the group members will be invested in acting on the consensus they created.

Consensus is not beyond your reach. The ToPTM Consensus Workshop Method is an effective way to create a consensus in a relatively short period of time by using an integrated, collective thinking process. 


Who Cares?