"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:
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. For more information, read The Workshop Book or take a Technology of Participation Facilitation Methods class.