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Making Decisions: Levels of Consensus

Consensus is a form of decision-making that concludes only when all participants reach agreement. It doesn't mean that everyone in the group loves the idea; it only means that everyone agrees to live with the decision and help implement it. Groups using consensus often "talk an issue to death" as they seek unity. Levels of consensus is an approach that provides a way to check consensus without unnecessary discussions or speeches.

Imagine that the swim team's booster club is developing a mission statement. The group has spent two meetings discussing and drafting their statement. It is now time to make a decision. Before the meeting, prepared a chart that explains the consensus scale:

  • 1 finger -- "I can say an unqualified yes to the decision. I am satisfied that the decision is an expression of the wisdom of the group."
  • 2 fingers -- "I find the decision perfectly acceptable."
  • 3 fingers -- "I can live with the decision even though I'm not especially enthusiastic about it."
  • 4 fingers -- "I do not fully agree with the decision and need to register my view about why. However, I will not block the decision because I trust the wisdom of the group."
  • 5 fingers -- "I do not agree with the decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision being accepted."
  • 6 fingers -- "I feel that we have no clear sense of unity in the group. We need to do more work before consensus can be reached."

Key Points To Take Away

--- Using levels of consensus streamlines the group-agreement process.
--- Remember to listen carefully to those who would like to express a concern or a caution.
--- It's a good idea to ask if there is need for further comment or discussion.


State the question to be decided and review the levels of consensus (above). Then ask all group members to hold up fingers indicating where they are on the consensus scale. If a quick scan of the room shows all ones and twos, the group can see that consensus has been reached. If there are several people indicating threes and fours -- or if there is even one five or six -- invite those with threes, fours, and fives to talk about why they chose that number.

Remember that when even one person is not in unity with the decision, the group needs to take the time to hear and consider what that person has to say.

NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: Two more easy-to-use decision-making techniques: stoplight cards and thumbs up.


About Great Meetings

Pam Plumb and Dee Kelsey are your facilitators in charge of Education World's Great Meetings series. They are also authors of the popular guide to meeting facilitation, Great Meetings! Great Results. Together, Pam and Dee have more than 40 years' experience facilitating change and training meeting leaders.

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