If you feel overwhelmed by decision-making, you’re not alone.
Each adult makes nearly 35,000 conscious decisions each day, according to various researchers. Some decisions – like where to purchase your morning coffee – only impact us personally. Decisions in the workplace, however, can create a ripple effect for employees, teams, organizations, and others.
Knowing that, it’s tempting to assume that more people should be involved in making decisions. After all, more heads are better than one, right?
Thanks to collective points of view, experiences, and knowledge, a team may be better than any individual at providing different perspectives, brainstorming, and evaluating risks. Yet, group dynamics also can cause errors and indecision, which can affect a project’s schedule, budget, or even overall effectiveness.
Not all groups or decisions benefit from group decision-making. But when group decision-making is needed, consensus is one way to go.
Contrary to common belief, consensus does not mean that everyone agrees. It is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means that everyone in the group agrees that they can support the final decision – even if (especially if!) it is not their first choice.
So, when should you seek consensus regarding projects?
Your team members trust each other and are committed to the project. Consensus-building is possible among team members who share similar levels of expertise, maturity, and knowledge, especially if they assume equal amounts of risk in the project. The group doesn’t have to agree, but should share the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” If there’s a power imbalance within the group, or there are any number of new members, consensus may not be possible. (It may be more of a consensus arm twist.) You may need to consider different models for decision-making if your project team isn’t cohesive or represents varying levels of experience.
You have a skilled facilitator. Consensus-building does not happen on its own. It requires an experienced individual who manages the conversation and guides group participation so the outcome is helpful. Think of a facilitator as a referee (minus the running) who is guided by practice, reminds everyone of the ground rules, and intervenes when someone breaks them. This individual holds the process accountable.
Your facilitator is prepared. Again, consensus-building doesn’t happen on its own. More often than not, the facilitator will need to prepare themselves and the group for consensus-building activities. The facilitator should prepare a solid agenda, select activities appropriate for the time allowed and the make-up of the group, and get ready for work. Above all, this person should recognize that consensus-building means listening, discussing, and evaluating.
You’ve collected adequate information. Good decisions can’t be made without good information. Consensus works best when the facilitator and/or project manager is able to collect and communicate options or alternatives. Consensus is more likely when data can be gathered so that the group can properly assess project needs, project scope and risks.
Your team has time. If you’re racing against the clock, this is not the time to build group cohesion and work toward consensus. Consensus-building requires time: time to prepare, time to facilitate, time to discuss, time to weigh and eliminate options.
Once you’ve decided that your situation is ideal for consensus-building, the process can still be challenging. Be willing to reach into your toolkit. Here are a few consensus-building tools to get a team to support a decision:
Building consensus is time-consuming and sometimes challenging, but it’s worth the effort in the right situation.
In what kinds of projects will you try to gain consensus?
Editor's Note: This post is adapted from one that originally ran in November 2017.
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