September 11, 2019


A look at what consensus actually is and why it is important to have in your team


Consensus, what does that mean and more importantly how does it provide any value? I had a vague idea of the answers to these questions, so I decided to research it a bit more and share my findings with you.

What Is Consensus?

The first thing we need to look at is what exactly is consensus? For me, it can be defined as follows:

When everyone in the team has had a chance to speak and be heard and an agreement made by everyone that the chosen path is the one that is will work for the team

Now that doesn't mean that everyone's favourite or first option is chosen. Instead it means that everyone has had the opportunity to speak and be heard and that everyone agrees that the result will achieve the desired outcome. There will be people who think that their option is better, and you want this. You don't want people to all merrily agree.

Why Is Consensus Important?

Without consensus in a group, the following items can negatively impact the group:

  • If someone doesn't feel like their opinion has been heard, they may not put forth any suggestions or comments in the future because "I don't get heard anyway, so why should I bother?". Essentially, they lose trust in the decision-making process.
  • When people don't feel like they are heard, they give a half-hearted effort and don't really care about the outcome. Some people may even go so far as to sabotage the work to "prove" that the path chosen was the incorrect one.
  • Lastly, like I mentioned above, you don't want people to merrily agree. You want those difference in opinion as it is those differences that make a solution better!

How To Make Sure Consensus Is Agreed On

After you have gone back and forth over the various pro's and con's of the different solutions, you need to make sure that everyone is in agreement on what the path forward is. This can be done by the following steps:

  1. State the path forward clearly. Don't just say "Do we all agree on that?" What is that? Someone's interpretation of that may be different from yours.
  2. In these types of discussions, you may find that when you ask if everyone agrees there may be silence or a few people may just nod their head. You want everyone to be involved and one way of doing that is using the "gladiator technique".

    Basically what everyone does is that they show their thumb in one of three states:
  • Thumbs Up - You fully agree with the solutionā€ƒ
  • Thumbs Sideways - You agree with the solution, but have some reservations
  • Thumbs Down - You completely disagree with the solution

If you get anyone with a thumbs down, you need to understand what the major concern is, as it may be valid. Your goal is to get to a solution where everyone has a thumbs up or thumbs sideways.

Tense Situations

During these sessions you will probably come up with a tense situation where there is a really strong disagreement and intense arguments.

One thing that I found in my research is that if you find that you are starting to get irritated or feel yourself resisting is to stop and have a sense of real curiosity. Try to understand why they are so opposed to the idea? Stop talking and listen, and I mean really listen. Try to see things from their point of view. More than likely they will start doing the same thing and it may reveal some important information.

Well I hope that this post helps you in the future. I'm gonna be keeping these ideas for the next time we need to achieve consensus!

Until next time...keep learning!