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Consensus: The Five Key Ingredients

This guest blog post is by Lindsay Gross, director of facilitation services for Event Garde.

One of the most common concerns for which groups seek outside support is struggling to find consensus on a particular issue. When groups are stuck at an impasse and can’t find common ground off which to build, they often feel at a loss. Trying to compromise or find agreements where each side gives a little, leaves everyone feeling unmotivated to carry out the decision. This is not consensus. Consensus is not a compromise that results in the lowest common denominator. It also is not where the majority rules, leaving some feeling defeated or that they lost out to the louder voices in the room. 

So, what is consensus and how do we as facilitators help groups achieve it? 

There are five key ingredients in creating consensus: 

1. Creativity 

Often, groups begin a decision-making process with two opposing viewpoints, each side believing they have the “right answer” to solve the problem facing them. Consensus is found through creativity. Facilitators create a space for groups to explore other creative options that can be supported and owned by all. Creativity is fostered through a variety of ways: the environment, brainstorming activities that push people beyond their first one to two initial ideas, as well as exploring opportunities to assess an issue from other previously unexamined perspectives. This creative thinking is critical to solving problems in a way that builds consensus.

2. Includes contributions from all 

In a traditional meeting, typically the extroverts or those in positions of power feel the most comfortable sharing their thoughts or feelings about a decision to be made. Introverts may not be comfortable sharing their ideas out loud in front of a large group. Members of a group who are not in leadership positions or are newer to their organization may also not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. Skilled facilitators create a safe and non-threatening space for all to contribute in ways in which they feel most comfortable. All must be given the opportunity to contribute for consensus to be achieved.

3. Expands Perspectives and Thinking

When presented with a problem, our minds naturally gravitate toward previously successful solutions. However, when groups are struggling to find consensus, out-of-the- box thinking is required. Facilitators work with groups to expand beyond those first one to two “go to” ideas, assisting groups with stretching and expanding their thinking about the possible solutions to a given problem.

4. Finds Common Ground 

Another key to creating consensus is to find alignment in thinking of groups that seem to be at odds. The most frequent experience of groups struggling to find consensus is believing that they have nothing in common with the other members of the group. They see a chasm that cannot be overcome. When you work with groups to expand their thinking you can then work to find commonality and align thinking in ways that had been previously unexamined. 

5. Group-owned Decisions

This final ingredient is the key to consensus. When each group member sees their work in the results they feel ownership over the decisions made. They will be empowered to act on these group decisions and celebrate the consensus created.  

In the end, these five ingredients must be mixed together in just the right order and with the right tools by a skilled facilitator. When all of these elements are brought together, consensus can be achieved and groups are expanded to a pallet of possibility. 

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