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Effective Teams Strive for Consensus

Effective Teams Strive for Consensus

One of the conditions necessary for successful team work is team members' ability to make decisions and solve problems as a group. Some of the most effective decision making processes include building consensus.

Building Consensus

Consensus means coming to an agreement. Creating consensus in a team setting means finding a proposal acceptable enough that all team members can support it, with no member opposing it. Consensus includes:

  • pooling opinions;
  • listening effectively;
  • discussing ideas and differences;
  • not getting all you want; and
  • coming to an agreement that everyone "can live with."

Consensus is not:

  • a unanimous vote;
  • majority or minority rule;
  • one person rule; or
  • bargaining.

Methods that help teams reach consensus

Teams can reach consensus using formal and informal methods. Highly developed teams may be able to reach consensus informally. However, new teams or groups of employees who are not familiar with each other will need more structured methods to help them build consensus methods such as brainstorming, multi-voting, and nominal group technique.

Brainstorming is a simple and effective method of generating ideas in a group. It begins with a facilitator defining the problem or the topic. Then, each team member suggests ideas either in turn or as ideas arise and those ideas are written on a board or flip chart.Team members should not criticize or evaluate any idea during the brainstorming session. After the team generate the ideas, the group refines the list by asking for explanations, combining ideas, and if necessary, prioritizing ideas from most effective to least effective.

Multi-voting can reduce a list containing a large number of items to a manageable few. At the beginning of the process, each member gets a number of votes equal to no more than one half or one third of the total number of items listed. Members cast their votes for the items they perceive as best on the list, but may cast only one vote per item. Items receiving votes from half or more of the group are circled. The process repeats, with members casting limited votes for the best of the remaining circled items. The team continues multi-voting until it reduces the list to three to five items.

Nominal group technique is a two part process that provides a more structured approach than brainstorming or multi-voting. First, the team runs a brainstorming session to generate a list of ideas. Once they have the list, members discuss and clarify the ideas. Then, each member receives small cards to equal a fraction of the number of ideas still on the list. The members use the cards to vote for the ideas they like the most by recording one idea per card and assigning that idea a rank order, with "1" being the least favorite. The facilitator or team leader gathers the cards and tallies the ranks given to each idea. The idea that has the highest point total is the team's selection.


Brainstorming, multi-voting, and nominal group technique are structured methods for helping teams discuss issues, develop ideas and solutions, and reach a decision that everyone can live with. Not all decisions must or should be made through consensus, but it can enhance both the quality of a decision and its acceptance by all involved.

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