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Consensus & Collaboration

DRC Guide to Consensus

One of the many things I have learned after working as a management consultant is that collaboration does not happen easily, regardless of the context under which is it needed.  More and more industries find collaboration among companies a necessity for growth and innovation – from development, joint marketing agreements to mergers or divestitures. A successful outcome often rest with a company’s ability to effectively collaborate and drive consensus among the stakeholders.

With all the client situations I have faced over the years – and there have been many – I been called upon to facilitate collaborations among various groups.  Often times the stakes very high and choices among participants are not clear-cut. Most striking however is the lack of understanding of underlying principles of effective collaboration. In particular, what it takes to reach consensus.

Whenever I am in these situations I introduce some basic ground rules at the outset of discussion. Starting with a definition of consensus, I state that a group reaches consensus when all members agree upon a single alternative and each group member can honestly say the following,

“I believe that you understand my point of view and that I understand yours.”

“I support the decision because it was reached fairly and openly.”

“It is the best solution for us at this time.”

To guide the efforts the stakeholders and to achieve full participation, I introduce the follow guidelines on reaching consensus:

  • Listen: Pay attention to others. – We were given two ears and one month. Enough said!
  • Encourage participation. – Everyone’s input is necessary for successful outcomes. Be sure to allow for everyone’s participation and do not let one person or group dominate to discussions.
  • Share information. – Information must be shared openly and freely among the group members. Any information withheld with inevitable undermine whatever course of action taken.
  • Don’t agree too quickly. – Decision making is hard but consensus is even harder. It is important to take the time need to fully understand alternative decision to establish support going forward.
  • Don’t bargain or trade support. – Driving to consensus should not be treated as a reality TV show episode of “Survivor” or “The Apprentice.”
  • Don’t vote. – Just because one option is more popular than others it does not mean consensus. Voting does not assure understanding and acceptance.
  • Treat differences as strength. – There is more than one way to skin a cat or as Gandhi put it, “Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.”
  • Create a solution that can be supported. – The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Why? Because solutions may not focus on a “triple’ bottom line.  Solutions must consider the process by which financial, organizational and operational dimensions of the organization.
  • Avoid arguing blindly for your own views. – Evidence based opinion and facts can serve to educate. Know your facts when making your point. The group will respect you for it.
  • Seek a mutual-gains solution. – A mutual-gain solution is in essence a win-win situation by which cooperation, compromise, and full participation leads to all participants benefiting.


To download a copy of DRC’s Guidelines to Consensus, click here.