Gary Winters

Coach  Workshop Facilitator Author

How do you achieve consensus without beating a dead horse?

I watched a meeting unfolding of the directors of a new company, who were trying to decide which vendor would supply a key service to the organization. After several minutes of heated debate, the director of business development literally stood up and pounded his fist on the table.

That got everyone’s attention!

“I think we should use Acme! Does anyone have a problem with that?”

The room fell silent.

Then he said (and this is the best part), “I guess we have consensus. Let’s move on!”

Did they have consensus? Nope.

They had silence.

Consensus is one of the most misunderstood concepts in organizations today. Let’s discuss what it is, what it isn’t, and how to achieve it.

I’ll start with what consensus isn’t. It’s not unanimity, where everyone agrees 100% with the proposal. It’s not majority rule, either. It’s not silence, and it’s not something you reach simply because time is running out so everyone throws in the towel.

Consensus is an agreement that has two critical characteristics: everyone in the room agrees they “can live with” the proposal, and they further agree to support it should it be adopted.

This means that each person has decided that this particular proposal, while perhaps not being exactly what they would have chosen, is close enough. Furthermore, they’d decided to support the proposal as though it was the one they would have chosen. They will not sabotage it afterwards, second-guess it, or take no responsibility for it.

How do you reach consensus with a group? You must set a climate where people are willing to do two things:

Plant their stake.

Let people know where they stand and how they feel. Put options on the table (perhaps just to make sure they’re considered). Participate.

Move their stake.

After hearing from others, people need to be willing to be influenced and change their position. They need to be searching for the best thinking of the group, rather than bolstering arguments on their own position. They should seek to understand others, not prevail in the discussion.

You can’t have consensus if people won’t plant their stake, or if people won’t move their stake.

How do you know when you have consensus?

How many meetings drag on and on, as people “beat a dead horse” in the search for consensus? We all know the answer to that one! Fortunately, there’s a way to test for consensus that’s deceptively easy and nearly fool-proof.

Once a participant senses that the horse has probably met his maker, he or she can test for consensus by asking everyone for a show of thumbs.

A show of thumbs?

Exactly. Thumbs up means “I support this proposal completely.”

Thumbs down means “I can’t support this proposal yet.”

But most importantly, thumbs to the side (parallel to the ground) means, “Although this is not exactly what I would propose we can do, I can live with it and agree to support it.”

Consensus is then defined, behaviorally, as a decision which passes the thumb test – every thumb is either pointed up or to the side. If there’s a thumb or two pointed down, the horse is still breathing, and the dialogue must be allowed to continue.

If you’re going for consensus, remember to refresh the group’s memory of what it means – we going to reach a decision that each of you can live with, and that all of you agree to support afterwards.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is the sequel to the very popular “What Your Boss Never Told You.” Packed inside are more tips, techniques, and insights about the challenging, but rewarding leadership position.

“What ELSE Your Boss Never Told You” is written in a conversational tone, as though you and the author were enjoying a cup of coffee and talking about the issues that emerge for new leaders. It stands alone, and/or could be read before or after the first volume, “What Your Boss Never Told You.” You can start with any chapter and read in any order you like.

if you search for a book on management, you’ll find a staggering 600,000+ books currently available. How can you narrow that down? “What Your Boss Never Told You” is the best place to start.

No textbook here – this book is short and sweet. It’s designed to help you “unpack” your new job and be effective from the first day with your new team. It contains twenty-one chapters filled with the wisdom Winters has gathered from real managers – effective, successful leaders in organizations much like yours.

Leaders make decisions every day – big and small. Most know that if they include others in the decision-making process, the quality of those decisions – and the commitment to them – will likely improve. That said, they also know it’s impractical, if not impossible, to include others in every decision they confront.

“To Do or Not To Do” tackles the question of when to make decisions on your own, and when to involve your team. It gives you a deceptively simple but proven method to determine, when you are facing a difficult decision, how to decide how to decide.

Far too many meetings are dreadful, mind-numbing, energy-draining, productivity-sapping, colossal wastes of time. As someone once said, “To kill time, a meeting is the perfect weapon.”

Here’s the deal: if you’re willing to learn and apply the techniques in “So, How Was Your Meeting?”, you’ll call fewer meetings, while vastly improving the ones you do lead. They’ll take less time, have more balanced participation, produce better decisions, and result in concrete action items for follow-up afterwards.

While there are thousands of books written for people about to retire, this may be the only book for people who manage soon-to-retire employees. Written in a casual, conversational style, “Managing the Soon To Retire Employee” will give you everything you need to know to move forward with confidence and grace.

You can be successful with Sooners. It won’t happen by chance, and it’s not a matter of pulling some management “trick” out of your hat. But you can learn how to do it, and you can apply what you’ve learned right away.

Managing friends or former peers can be awkward. When you become the boss, everything about these relationships can suddenly be uncomfortable. There’s a new set of ground rules to establish – as manager, you are going be accountable for the work performance of friends or former co-workers on the team, and they are going to have to adjust to the fact that they now report to you. Everyone involved can feel awkward and hesitant about the future. 

Have you been approached by management with an offer to promote you to supervision? Or, are you mulling over the possibility for the future? Find yourself not sure whether to accept the promotion?

If so, you’ve come to the right place. Help! They Want to Make ME a Supervisor will help you sort out a very big question: Should you accept the offer to become a supervisor? Once you’ve read this book, you’ll be confident that you’ve made the best decision for you and for your organization.