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Consensus matters!
What does consensus mean?
Consensus is a process for group decision-making.
It is a method by which an entire group of people can come to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote the growth of community and trust.

Voting is a means by which we choose one alternative from several. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesizing many diverse elements together. Voting is a win or lose model, in which people are more often concerned with the numbers it takes to "win" than with the issue itself. Voting does not take into account individual feelings or needs. In essence, it is a quantitative, rather than qualitative, method of decision-making.

With consensus people can and should work through differences and reach a mutually satisfactory position. It is possible for one person's insights or strongly held beliefs to sway the whole group. No ideas are lost, each member's input is valued as part of the solution. A group committed to consensus may utilize other forms of decision making (individual, com-promise, majority rules) when appropriate; however, a group that has adopted a consensus model will use that process for any item that brings up a lot of emotions, is something that concerns people's ethics, politics, morals, or other areas where there is much investment.

Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is necessarily the best one possible or even that they are sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt that her/his position on the matter was misunderstood or that it wasn't given a proper hearing. Hopefully, everyone will think it is the best decision; this often happens because, when it works, collective intelligence does come up with better solutions than could individuals.

The staff agreed to adopt the following:
Some specific . . . expectations and practices we shall use at our school.

Observes the norms the staff has set

  Make absolutely clear to the group what it is that they are seeking consensus on.
[and listens some more to what the speaker is trying to say]
  Start off by getting the group to agree to some "lofty" or super  ordinate goal... a noble objective that they all will strive for in  attempting to build a consensus.

Asks clarifying questions

  “Do you mean…?”
  “Can you tell me more…?”
  “Is this discussion part of our focus?”

  A certain amount of tension in the room is expected and helpful. Don't initiate any activity that prematurely smooths-over the  conflict.
  Avoid any technique that reduces conflict, such as trading,  voting, numerical averaging, coin-flips, or bargaining.
  Helps the facilitator
  • engage all members of the group
  • stay focused on the issue and time

  Require that each individual take responsibility for hearing others and being heard. Everyone  participates actively and is included in building the consensus.
  Keep insisting that there be a "win /win" environment in the room.  A win by the group and the individuals are more important than a  solitary individual win.
  Doesn't argue for personal judgments
  • approach from a standpoint of logic
  Remind the group that conflict is good in creating consensus and  is not a hindrance to it. Differences of opinion and disagreement are natural and expected.
  Doesn't change mind to avoid conflict
Look for a common ground of solutions that may not be precisely what you think right but close enough.
To build capability and capacity across the school, all group members take turns serving as facilitator.
Conflict, differences of opinion and interpretation are a helpful and strengthening attribute of consensus-building.
 Remember when working as a team toward the development of consensus . . .

• Complete unanimity is NOT the goal.
• Discourage those who ARGUE for their position.
• Do not let the group assume that it is a win-lose situation. Encourage a win-win arrangement
• Discourage those who change their mind simply to AVOID conflict
• Guide the group so as to AVOID conflict-reducing techniques like voting, averaging, coin-tosses, et cetera.
• Be realistic - differences of opinion within the group are HEALTHY and natural; they frequently result in synergism helpful to the process.
• Do not become discouraged at the TIME REQUIRED to reach consensus; if the group becomes weary then take a break or schedule another meeting.

Over time and with a focus on consensus, the following benefits emerge for all of us in improving our school and working together…


Decisions are more accurate
Staff are more willing to support decisions
Disagreements are explored rather than avoided
Everyone gets a chance to be heard
Everyone ends up with more information
Group synergism creates a higher-quality decision

For more information and ideas about building consensus practices into your leadership, visit:
The Ball Foundation
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B A C K G R O U N D. . .
[the following development occurred during a staff's review of their failing school - summer 2003]

The Leadership Team, after studying the school's performance, realized that for the school to move forward to implement the significant changes required to improve student learning, the staff needed to develop consensus as a “best practice.” They decided that consensus practices be implemented from now on across the school in all meetings and work sessions.

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