So you want to get a group decision on an issue or action! Where do you start? How do you guide them through the decision-making process so you end up with an acceptable resolution that can be supported by all?

Here is a short animated video featuring a group trying to get to a decision on an issue of critical importance to them at this time in their long meeting – What one flavor of ice cream to order for their break?

Here are the 10 Steps to Building Consensus illustrated in the video.

1. Define the decision to be made – If individuals enter a meeting with different perceptions of the decision to be made, some will be disappointed that options they favor are not even up for discussion.  In this example, imagine how you would have felt if you thought you were there to choose between fruit, pastries and ice cream. This group knew they were there to pick a flavor of ice cream.  The decision needs to be boiled down to its essence and described in just a few words preferably in the meeting agenda distributed prior to the meeting. Agreeing on the decision to be made is a critical step.

2. Define the process to be used – The meeting leader initially suggested the selection be based on a majority vote but one of the group said that would not work because some members could not eat some of the flavors. Boomerang back any “this won’t work” responses back to the group – when the group blocked majority voting they were asked what would work. The group then decided to make the selection by consensus.

3. Agree on a fallback decision making process if consensus fails – This group decided that if 10 minutes passed without consensus, a flavor would be drawn from a hat.

4. Give stakeholders a chance for input – Each member spoke about their preferences and objections to the options.

5. Focus on needs not demands – Rather than just voting against Rocky Road, one member’s voiced her need related to her nut allergy which ruled out that flavor. Dig beneath the surface of any demands to understand what need is driving the demand.

6. Narrow the options – The group took an initial straw vote. The vote and related discussion narrowed the choice to chocolate or vanilla. Strawberry fell off the list as the other choices were still acceptable and buy-in was achieved.

7. Explore resistance and ask for solutions – The group members offered suggestions and expressed their concerns about the chocolate and vanilla alternatives. Although chocolate seemed to have a 3-2 edge, concerns over past effects of chocolate were raised. At this point, the concept of frozen yogurt as a solution was introduced but dismissed after discussion.

8. Explore further options  –  A group member suggested vanilla/chocolate swirl ice cream versus yogurt. This demonstrates the iterative process of building up and eliminating options to come up with an acceptable solution for all.

9. Get a verbal  commitment to a decision – After discussing the swirl option, each member was asked to voice a yes or no vote. At this point in the process, ask each member of the group to consider that even though the option up for consideration may not be their first choice, could they live with it? Each agreed the swirl option was acceptable. If you are sitting in the exit row on an airplane, you are asked for a verbal commitment to opening the emergency exit, not just a nod. Verbal expression strengthens the commitment.

10. Follow-up with written commitment and a deadline to resolve any further comments – This step didn’t apply to this simple example but is an important step in the more complex real-world situations. It assists in seeing that all have the same understanding of the decision. Or if they don’t have the same understanding, then there may need to be additional discussions to get to a consensus decision or revert to the agreed upon fallback decision-making process.

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