The how of building Consensus: Ways of building consensus in your teams

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In my last blog I talked about one of the important leadership competencies, which was the need to build consensus to ensure that the team supports the leader whole heartedly in implementing the decisions taken. I had talked about why building consensus in the team becomes critical, specially at senior levels, and that it entails a little give and take on both sides through negotiation so that interests of all parties are addressed.
In this blog, I will discuss a few ways in which leaders can build consensus in their teams. The key to building consensus is to first understand what are the possible roadblocks which may come in the way of building consensus.
The first roadblock as I see it, is that the leader tries to push through a decision which is either not in the interest of the organization, or its connection to organization well being is not clear. Although it seems unlikely that any leader will try to implement a plan of action which is detrimental to organization interest, in my consulting career I have seen enough leaders who tend to do this unknowingly, in the mistaken belief that the action they are taking is in the interest of the organization.
The second issue which may come in the way of getting to a consensus is the inability of the leader to have a clear understanding of the various interest groups in the organization. This lack of understanding may lead to the leader’s decisions getting blocked overtly or covertly, although on the surface he would have had agreement of all.
The third issue that I foresee as a roadblock is of the leader being unable to uncover individual interest of the team members, which may again lead to covert or overt resistance to the decision.
Let us examine these three issues and see how a leader can avoid these pitfalls in his/her quest for building consensus. The first issue is about a dissonance or disconnect between how the leader sees the organization compared to reality. In my experience this tends to happen due the fact that the leader either has not spent adequate time in seeking feedback from a cross section of the staff, or has not been skilled enough to uncover the unsaid. One of the most important aspect of leadership is the ability of the leader to constantly be in touch with the organization and the employees through a number of formal and informal communication channels. Most research talks about this communication taking more than 30% of a leader’s time While communicating, it also important to first ensure that the communication two way, with the leader listening to others more that speaking what he feels. This would help him get a sense of issues which are subsurface which he can then uncover through a “group” or “one on one” interaction. The second aspect is about communicating across levels and functions. A number of leaders tend to only communicate with a selected group which does not permit them to get a 360 view of the organization and the staff.
The second issue is about the inability of the leader to understand the various interest groups in the organization. All organizations are dynamic and living organisms and the interest of various parts of the organization form a complex mesh. Departmental or functional interest may be affected by personal relationships, tenured versus new employees or regional or ethnic loyalties. It may not be possible for any one leader to have an understanding of all the interest groups, however, the ability to encourage voicing of dissenting views and objectively examining them before passing judgement will help a leader in dealing with this issue in a better manner.
The third issue of uncovering individual interests is connected to the second issue and the key here is again how safe people feel in voicing views which are different from what the leader wants. It is important not only to encourage dissenting views to be put in the table, but also past an objective analysis, incorporate the dissenting view in the decision if that view is found to add value to the decision. It is important that the leader is able to keep the discussion at an intellectual level rather than letting it become emotional. Issue based analysis without any personal bias is the key to effective consensus building process.
A consensus building process is basically a negotiation between different interests being represented by the various people who are part of this process. At this juncture I would like to introduce a few methods suggested by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their book “Getting to Yes”. I would recommend this as essential reading for all leaders. The authors talk about the following four methods which help in successful negotiations.
a. Discuss and address interests. It is critical to ask why someone is taking a particular position on the issues to understand what they really need to achieve. Interests can be met in many ways, positions are much more rigid.
b. Understand the role of interpersonal dynamics in negotiation and help people move on. Fisher and Ury call this “separating people from the problem” meaning that it is important to understand the role that emotions play in a dispute but not allow these emotions to block one from addressing each problem on its merits.
a. Generate a wide range of options, minimizing judgement first. People are less likely to block issues when many options are being discussed.
b. Agree to a criteria by which to judge options at the beginning of the process.
Getting to consensus is tough and most leaders tend to push their way through either to save time or effort. However, in case consensus was not achieved, they find that the implementation of the decision hits a number of roadblocks due to covert or overt resistance by their team members.
Do let me know what you think of the ideas expressed in this blog? Would welcome inputs from the readers of any other method which leaders have employed to build consensus.
Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at for any query, discussion or professional requirements.
About R Square consulting : R Square consulting provides end to end services in the field of building leadership and managerial capability to include leadership development interventions based on a holistic blend of exploration, reflection, action learning and coaching, assessment centers and various Organizational development interventions.
R square consulting provides customised and holistic HR interventions for developing the human capital of an organization through:
Executive Coaching
Assessment and Development Centers
Organizational Development Interventions
Leadership and managerial development
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