Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Where's the trust? Leadership or consensus?

Hello. I'd like to say something about consensus. It is not easy to--Mic check! Mic check!--excuse me, I'm going to finish--consensus is not easy to achieve. In fact, false consensus seems to be more common than true consensus even when we think we've gotten there.

Mic check! Mic check! We vote! We can't get consensus!

 Is consensus always a wise or necessary approach? Probably not. Larry Dressler (2006, p. 7), author of Consensus Through Conversation: How to Achieve High-Commitment Decisions, advises against attempting consensus when the decision is a fait accompli, when a fast decision is most important, when crucial parties are not available or refuse to participate, or when the decision is just not important enough to warrant the investment in time that consensus requires.
No leader of the group/campaign/movement should attempt to facilitate a true consensus process. It's best to get an outside expert, someone who has no stake in the decision, or at least can set all opinion about outcome aside and never feel the need to say, 'OK, I'm taking off my consensus hat and offering my opinion now.' It undermines the trust in the consensus facilitator to suddenly hear a partisan opinion. Keeping trust in the process is tricky enough when there are shifting roles, grandstanding participants, recalcitrant members who may choose silence or laconic dismissal instead of involvement, or even chronically absent members. From the suites to the streets, it's not easy, but it works miracles once it's honestly achieved.

Mic check! Mic check! My issues! Page one! Read all about them!

If you are leading a group toward consensus, toward that high commitment decision, keep centered. Know that some groups cannot reach consensus about some issues. Keep reminding the group that consensus is more than a quick agreement to what the dominant personality (or person who hires and fires) wants; if you are truly attempting consensus, you are all ultimately going to agree on a decision that you commit to and will work hard to implement. Anything less, says Dressler, misses the definition of consensus.

Mic check! Mic check! Hear me out! I am the only one with insight!

In the swirl of this discussion toward consensus, conflicts flare, ultimata are expressed, radical disagreement can surface, and that is when the facilitator can access her Third Eye, her connection to the universe, her synoptic view from the balcony up above, to assess with less passion and more helpful evaluation, just where the group seems to be heading even when they appear to be pulling in many directions. I watched one such consensus worker suddenly tell the group, "This is what I'm hearing..." and gave them their own words, synthesized in a functional decision that satisfied and relieved everyone. That decision was shocking but it was really just the result of all their ideas and desires stitched together quite artfully into a tapestry they loved.

Mic check! Mic check! Thank you thank you thankyou.

Dressler, Larry (2006). Consensus through conversation: How to achieve high-commitment decisions. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

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