LEADING ORGANIZATIONS: Building Consensus

Consensus is a collaborative, participatory style of decision-making that offers an alternative to top-down or majority rule approaches. Its results often lead to more effective implementation, stronger group relationships, and greater interpersonal connections.



What is consensus?

Consensus is both a process and an outcome. It means that the leader and team members listen to each other and try to formulate a proposal that combines many people’s ideas and is agreeable to all. Consensus means that members are sufficiently in favor of a decision that no one will become an obstacle to carrying it out. It does not mean that everyone gets his or her choice or that there is unanimous agreement about the best solution. Consensus exists once there is a solution everyone can accept even if they favored another outcome.


When is consensus not appropriate?

A leader should seek consensus when the team needs to agree on a specific decision or plan of action so that it can move forward. If there is ambiguity about the proper course or disagreement about what people should be doing, reaching consensus can provide clarity and a shared understanding of what is expected. Consensus is most important when team members’ support and ownership of an idea is necessary for it to be implemented. Achieving consensus helps guide team members toward creating this support and ownership.


What are some things you can do to achieve consensus?

A leader can facilitate a group discussion toward consensus in the following ways:

  1. Presenting a position logically and providing information to support it

  2. Considering other positions carefully before pressing his or her point

  3. Acknowledging other positions that have objective and logical bases

  4. Exploring reasons for differences of opinion

  5. Looking at alternatives

  6. Distinguishing between objective data and gut-level feelings about an issue

  7. Polling the group to gauge the level of agreement, but not to achieve a majority rule outcome


What are some things that hinder consensus?

Actions such as the following can discourage participation and make consensus difficult to achieve:

  1. Arguing for your position without any justification; this lacks credibility and persuasive power

  2. Arguing automatically for your own personal priorities; this suggests a lack of interest in other information and perspectives

  3. Changing your mind just to avoid conflict; this may result in a lack of commitment to a decision or a sub-optimal outcome

  4. Assuming that stalemate reflects a win-lose situation; alternatives that satisfy the group might just not have been identified yet


Here are some ways to facilitate consensus building:



Source and inspiration: University of Colorado and Harvard University.

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