Five Ways to Use Consensus for Group Decisions

The term “consensus” is most often heard during political campaign season or when Congress is in session. Politicians are forever promising to build consensus with those on the other side of the political aisle, but there’s typically more talk than action.

Business leaders and human resource managers cannot afford to be so cavalier in their commitment to consensus. Sticking to the concept of proper consensus management can lead to happier employees and more robust bottom lines.

What is consensus?

Consensus is a method for group decision-making in which the goal is to arrive at a final decision that is acceptable to all members of the group because each  had a say in its formation. Effective consensus decision-making leaves every team member feeling that they have been heard and that their ideas have been considered.

Consensus can be a very powerful tool for human resources because with it you can unite employees around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Consensus also fosters a climate of cooperation with employees collaborating to solve problems.

Because it involves the participation of everyone within a group, fostering consensus builds more buy-in from individual employees who feel they have more say, and therefore more of a stake in business processes and outcomes.

Five Ways to Implement Consensus for Group Decisions

As a human resources manager, it’s important to know some of the considerations that should be weighed before implementing a consensus-building model.

Important ideas to consider:

1. Lose the attitudes that undermine consensus. A team that operates in a “win-lose” environment – one employee’s idea must prevail over another’s – is not going to do well with consensus. Consensus building can also falter on a team with members who routinely avoid conflict. For effective dialogs to take place, employees should be encouraged to speak their minds, but also to understand that everyone has an equal say. Bear in mind that reaching consensus does not necessarily mean a unanimous decision.

2. Have regularly scheduled meetings. A team using consensus management must meet frequently to allow every team member the opportunity to have a voice in decisions. There also should be a consistent process at these meetings for employees to voice their opinions.

3. Foster an atmosphere of open communication. Employees will not speak freely in an atmosphere where new ideas are not welcome. Managers must make it clear to employees that all opinions are welcome. This will lead to employees trusting the process, which is a critical component of consensus building success.

4. Set clearly defined goals. No decision-making process, whether by group or individual, is going to be successful if the goals are not clearly defined. Clichés abound on this subject, but the simplest is still the best:  You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you are going. Communication is vital in this area. Managers should make the ultimate group objective clear to employees before engaging in consensus building.

5. Support the decision. After encouraging employees to work together to forge consensus, it’s important to support the ultimate decision. There are rewards that come naturally from this exercise. Proper support reinforces the consensus building process to increase engagement among all stakeholders and decrease negative attitudes that can undermine productivity.

As difficult as it may be to implement, consensus building can offer tremendous rewards for the manager who uses it wisely in the right circumstances.

This guest post was provided by Jessica Edmondson who contributes on online leadership courses and executive decision making for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc. 

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