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Finding Consensus Develops Your Team

March 26, 2018
Lead Teams

Consensus can sometimes be difficult to obtain in a team, especially when everyone on a team has different ideas regarding what to do and how to do it.

I was recently in a meeting with a team of people who had gathered to make some decisions that affected everyone’s processes. There were many perspectives at that table, all vying for special recognition of their point of view. Everyone was invited to share; however, debate was not allowed. We were all to simply listen. When everyone had his or her say, the facilitator introduced a possible solution based on everyone’s input. At this point, we were invited to give feedback using what we call The Fist to Five.

The Fist to Five is using your fingers to comment your reaction to the proposed solution.

Fist (0 Fingers):
Absolutely disagree – Actively against this decision.

1 Finger:
Disagree – Lots of questions that would need to be addressed.

2 Fingers:
Reservations or Questions would need to be addressed before moving forward.

3 Fingers:

4 Fingers:
Agree with some reservations–Will not prevent willing participation; however, reservations may need to be addressed later.

5 Fingers:
Absolutely agree – No reservations.

In this meeting, only a couple of people responded with one, two, or three fingers; the rest raised four or five fingers. Instead of accepting the majority decision as final and moving on, we paused to give the one, two, and three finger responders a chance to explain their position. This was the time to ask questions and express concern or unresolved repercussions. After listening to the concerns raised, slight adjustments were made to the proposed solution. A revote reflected only absolute agreement or agreement with some reservations. With everyone in agreement, the new direction was ready to implement with clarity.

This scenario reminds me of the story of the Native American ”talking stick” (or sometimes “talking feather”). In this time-honored ritual, the talking stick gave the holder the right to speak uninterrupted for an agreed upon amount of time. The talking stick was then passed to another participant in the conversation. This gave everyone (even the less vocal or introverted participants) a chance to share their point of view. In some variations, those not speaking kept their eyes downcast, symbolizing they were listening. Because they were expected to listen intensely without judgment, as the talking stick was passed along, it was expected information would not be repeated nor were any impertinent questions to be asked. Even when participants did not agree with what was said, they were expected to respectfully listen to what was said.

The meeting I attended didn’t employ an actual talking stick; however, it did have agreed upon rules similar to the practice. This allowed for quick feedback on decisions and provided a forum for concerns to be addressed before moving forward.

Because everyone felt truly heard, we were able to come to a consensus, which further developed our team unity.


Consensus does not accept one person’s (i.e. the boss’) opinion as right, forcing all team members to blindly accept the direction to keep the peace. It involves toiling through the different points of view and agreeing, as a team, to move forward in a unified direction with everyone fully engaged because all reservations have been addressed.

Determine in what ways you can arrive at a consensus within your team this week. Try The Fist to Five technique and only allow those who disagree to voice their concerns and ask questions. Make sure the focus of any discussion is listening respectfully to the different points of view and focusing on the ideas, not the individual team members. This exercise is not about position, it is about unity. You may be surprised to see how pleasant it is to find consensus.

Let us know how we can help your team or assist you on your own personal leadership journey. Whether it is finding consensus, problem solving, or leading others, we have the tools to partner with you.

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