Silence the naysayers, we almost have consensus!

By: Ryan Cooke

…are we at the Arrival or Departure of Consensus – have we ever genuinely asked?

The term consensus, at its core, is a lofty goal for project leaders. In most instances, it can be more accurately described as a spectrum of consensus instead. We have all sat through committee meetings, huddles, touch bases, and the myriad of other named get-togethers in which the group has reached a decision, yet we may never have heard the word consensus. Instead, you might have heard phrases such as; “seems we are in agreement,” “is that ok with everyone?” “are we all on the same page here?” or, my favorite, “we good?<then after looking at a few team members’ facial expressions>…ok, we are good.” Are these questions or statements sufficient, or have we conceited consensus?

First, we need to explain the term consensus. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines consensus as “group solidarity in sentiment and belief” (WOW, right?! This is huge!)

Second, we need to explain this term in a manner that is clear and will resonate with the intended audience: the project team. As a leader, one must be humble and vulnerable enough to understand the intrinsic complexity of a consensus and create an environment in which the team is comfortable to dissent when asked if we have reached a consensus. Establishing these norms proactively mitigates groupthink, a phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group, often setting aside their own personal beliefs to adopt the opinion of the rest of the group.

As a healthcare leader, it is neither feasible nor reasonable, nor would I seek consensus on every small task or decision during a project. However, I have had some great success when nearing the end of a crucial component of the project work, I have found it helpful to dive deeply in to understand what barriers exist to consensus. Identifying barriers enables teams to iron out concerns before moving on or closing the task. This is crucial in maintaining engagement and dedication to accomplishing the overall project goal. Failure to reach solidarity as a team on a major decision can result in team members second-guessing the sharing of opinions, creating team discourse and unintended power dynamics, which can cause detrimental impacts on the overall project success.

Projects are not utopias; there will be sacrifices and trade-offs on the road to project completion. So, the challenge is presented: how will you hone your skills, knowledge, and judgment to reach a consensus? Can you determine where on the spectrum you are? Do you have the resiliency to depart from a consensus and advocate for it in a new and dynamic way? At Yellow Brick, we understand the challenge of getting multiple stakeholders to agree, so we have developed a Decisions Document to memorialize decisions that may have resulted in trade-offs. This provides context to the project team, and a historical record should that decision be questioned.

As we strive for continuous improvement on our own leadership trajectory, innovative discovery on how to achieve consensus ensures we aren’t “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Consensus Assessment

To assess where on the consensus continuum the team may be, periodically employ the five-finger test:

5           I’m all for the idea – I can be a leader

4          I’m for the idea – I can provide support

3           I’m not sure, but I’m willing to trust the group’s opinion

2          I’m not sure – I need more discussion

1          I can’t support it at this time – I need more information

Fist       No – I need an alternative I can support.