Sometimes, we are asked to get parties to agree on a proposal filled with conflict. Asking individuals to vote yes or no can pit one group against another.
Is there a better way to get everyone on the same page and achieve consensus?
A few years ago, I was asked to facilitate a meeting where stakeholders were at odds with one another. The company wanted to add a new sales position to the sales force. However, the new position would have a direct impact on the existing office personnel in many of the remote offices, reducing hundreds of people’s responsibilities.
I was told, “You are going to have your hands full trying to get this group to agree.” I took that as a personal challenge and looked forward to seeing how things would evolve.
Consensus isn’t just about agreement. It’s about changing things around: You get a proposal, you work something out, people foresee problems, you do creative synthesis. At the end of it, you come up with something that everyone thinks is okay. Most people like it, and nobody hates it. -David Graeber
How We Achieved Closure
Since I knew there would be a conflict, emotion, and tension in the decision process, I chose to use the “Degree of Agreement” method. Let’s look at the process.
- Clarify the decision that needs to be made.
- Determine who will make the final decision.
- During the meeting, determine the consensus rule. For example, consensus may mean that everyone must vote a 1 or 2.
- Review the decision that needs to be made. Provide the background information.
- Perform a Round Robin, moving from one person to the next person asking their vote.
- Once everyone has voted, circle back to anyone who voted anything other than a 1=Fully endorse.
- Ask each person what it would take to get them to the next level of agreement. For example, assume one person has voted a 3. The facilitator would ask the person what it would take to get them to a 2 or 1. Discuss the suggestions with the group.
- Determine if the group reached consensus.
Here’s a simpler method for quick decisions. Have participants to vote:
- Thumbs Up – I agree.
- Thumbs Sideways – I agree with some reservation.
- Thumbs down – I disagree (block) or I have something to say.
Typically those voting Thumbs Up or Thumbs Sideways are considered to be in consensus. Like earlier, ask the individuals in disagreement about their concerns and what it would take to get them to agree.
Senior Leader Makes Final Decision
For some decisions, the senior leader may wish to retain the right to make the final decision. However, before the leader makes a decision, he or she wants to hear from the stakeholders.
The senior leader may ask someone to facilitate a session like I described earlier. The results are shared with the leader. The leader makes the final decision and notifies the stakeholders.
I have found that people who formerly disagreed often become supportive when they have had a chance to share their opinions openly and without reservation. The process takes time but can greatly improve the likelihood of success – stakeholders are less likely to undermine the implementation later.
You may be wondering what happened with my meeting. Here is the rest of the story.
When people entered the room, they took their positions. Some folded their arms. Others tapped their fingers on the tables. Individuals checked their cell phones and picked lint off their clothes. I thought…oh boy…this should be fun.
As the meeting progressed, the climate of the meeting improved. People opened up and expressed their ideas. There were debate and discussion. It took time, but we reached consensus.
While I have not always reached consensus with the Degree to Agreement technique, I have found it helpful in facilitating discussion and helping stakeholders understand one another’s positions.
Give it a try. Let me know about your experience.
Click here for a FREE .pdf copy of the Degree of Agreement process.
Question: What other techniques do you use to help conflicted stakeholders reach agreement?