Of dancing bears with colored pens…

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The path to consensus.

It is in the end an interesting business problem that can either empower or cripple a company or government agency. What is the path to consensus they take. Consensus is a good thing but it can cripple projects. If there is the draconian we won’t proceed without complete consensus in the end you lose.

The other side is the if we don’t have consensus we will get as many people engaged as we can and move forward. There are risks with both models. The first one can gridlock a project in the reality of Washington DC afternoon traffic (go West on US 66 or North on US 495 any day of the week and enjoy gridlock).

Of course the risk of less than 100% consensus is the project whisperer. Someone that works around the edges of the project playing the political how can I destroy this project game. It doesn’t always happen so its only a risk not a law. But if you go forward without full consensus it is imperative that you have both mitigation and contingency plans to deal with the communication type project whisperer.

For 100% consensus projects you have to strongly consider building solutions in the end that include the extra time needed to convince all parties.

Why talk about this now? Well on the path to consensus you can see a lot of what an organization is and how it ticks. There is a clarity in the process of observing consensus building. Personally I think the best meetings are where people argue, hash it out and come to an informal agreement. A lot of people don’t like that. They prefer the quiet consensus building process that occurs through slow one on one communication. Both are correct but now you see why we are talking about this.

You have to in the end understand the group you are working with. Every audience has three or more components to it. There are leaders within the group. There are followers in the group. There are also three other types of people to be aware of:

  • Scribes or note takers – o focus on taking notes (important to have as they note what people actually say). When asked to contribute they may be confused as sometimes they listen to record the words not hear the words.
  • Explainers – they talk about what things mean. You have to have them on the team. You also have to watch out for long explanations and frequent explanations.
  • Interpreters – they take the data available for the team and convert it to usable information.

All three are critical roles. All three have something to contribute to consensus. But the reality of your meetings is who is where. Wrong leadership role in the wrong meeting role will in the end create problems. Leaders in the scribe role don’t work well. They can when they are modeling a behavior (take notes) but need to pass that to someone else on the team more suited for the role.

Ah communication – you are always just beyond our fingertips!

.doc

Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow!