Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Fallacy About Group Consensus in Consultation

I was working with a group recently and the discussion turned to a recent consultation exercise the organization had run last year. Many of the group were unhappy with the outcome decided upon by the Senior Management Team, a familiar refrain "Management didn't listen to us!" was heard around the room.

I probed a little deeper about what had happened ... "We were asked for our views" I was told, "But Management didn't listen...", "I didn't agree with their decision ...", "It wasn't the outcome I wanted ...".

"What were you expecting from a consultation exercise?" I asked. It transpired that what many people expected was to be asked their opinion and then management to implement a proposal that everyone agreed on, even though not everyone agreed on THE solution. It seemed to me that people had got themselves a little bogged down in what consensus following a consultation exercise actually is.

So I referred people to the explanation of consensus provided by Chris McGoff in his book "The Primes". Chris describes consensus as the following ...

"Process Satisfaction: Was the process used explicit, rational and fair?

Personal Treatment: Were you, personally, treated well? Did you have ample opportunity to be heard, to make your opinion known and to consider others opinions?

Outcome Satisfaction: Can you live with the outcome and commit to supporting the decisions of the group?"

Note the distinction in this last point between "live with" and "agree with". You don't have to agree with everything, but can you live with the decision?

Having explained Chris McGoff's thought process I asked them to review the recent consultation process in light of the Consensus Prime. Upon reflection the group, with a couple of exceptions, believed that the process had been fair, they had been listened to and they could live with the outcome. As one participant commented if "I'd known that consensus didn't necessairly mean agreement, this would have been an easier ride".

So perhaps a learning point for all ... be clear what you mean by consensus when consulting with your employees.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts.

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