Reaching Consensus: Who’s in Favor of the Proposal?

Mini-Saga: Gate Passed!
Weeks before the Gate, Mipsy predicted minor issues, but no blockers. After the Pre-Gate Review, she felt like she had run head-first into a brick wall. Mipsy worked with stakeholders, issues and bridged misunderstandings for the final meeting. At the Gate Roll Call, All Approved with minor points. Gate Passed!

Picking up Where We Left Off

Last week, I explained that when groups reach agreement, the story behind the agreement is almost never as simple as it’s presented: “They voted up or down on the proposal.”

There are usually “Gradients of Agreement,” as suggested by the authors in the book A Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making.

Even if you reach agreement quickly, it’s rare that it comes without some discussion first: either inside or outside the meeting.  The first time any proposal comes to the table, teams usually fall into one of four categories:

  • Enthusiastic Support
    This is level of support is difficult to obtain. When you have enthusiastic support, the majority of the team falls in the lowermost four categories of the scale. As an example, consider 13 team members distributed among the following:
Enthusiastic Support
Enthusiastic Support

I think Enthusiastic is a misnomer here given this level of agreement, but with 13 people, each with differing opinions, it might be as ‘Enthusiastic’ as it gets.

  • Ambiguous Support
    When you have some team members willing to endorse your proposal, some with concerns and some formally disagreeing, but unwilling to stand in the way of the majority, it reflects a team that is all over the map in their response to the proposal on the table. As an example, consider 13 team members distributed among the following:
Ambiguous Support
Ambiguous Support

The danger here is that some teams would accept this as unanimous consent since no one vetoed the proposal. In this situation, take a step back and discuss their concerns until everyone’s issues are on the table.  Then take action to address them.

  • Lukewarm Support
    When you have some team members willing to endorse your proposal, but the majority have concerns, you have lukewarm support.  As an example, consider 13 team members with the following levels of support:

Lukewarm Support
Lukewarm Support

This level of support may be adequate for decisions that affect only a few people or when the stakes are low, but for Gate Reviews, like Mipsy’s above, Enthusiastic Support is needed. Understanding and addressing their concerns is key to moving people towards Endorsement.

  • Meager Support
    When you have team members equally split over a proposal – with no one abstaining – you have meager support. Obviously, it would be unwise to implement a proposal with this level of agreement, but the authors of A Facilitator’s Guide believe that in some cases, (in an Emergency, for example) moving forward might be justified.
Meager Support
Meager Support

Much of what we’ve labelled as consensus might have been mistaken for ambiguous or lukewarm support. To ensure the success of critical decisions or initiatives, we need to do better.  Next week, I want to talk about when it’s critical to get to consensus.

What has been your experience in reaching consensus?  Have you seen similar patterns on your teams?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.


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