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August 20, 2017

Small Business Advice

The importance of consensus leadership in accomplishing goals

Jerry Osteryoung | 2/17/2017

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Getting staff to move together as a unified team toward a common goal is always challenging. However, with consensus building, management can ensure they have the support of the entire team as they steer the organization in the chosen direction.

This is a concept known as consensus management. It is not a new concept -- Native Americans and Quakers have been utilizing it for hundreds of years – and now, many firms, including Starbucks and Levi Strauss, are successfully incorporating it into their management process.

Consensus management is the process whereby team members work as a group to develop a solution and agree to support whatever decision is made in the best interests of the whole. It requires asking for input from each person on the team, carefully considering that feedback and making an earnest effort to address any concerns that are raised.

This is most commonly accomplished by holding a consensus meeting where staff is empowered to voice their support and concerns. The key to success here is that everyone agrees to support the consensus decision once it is made, regardless of how they feel about it.

Everyone should be present and engaged in this process because you need buy-in from the whole team. I find it is sometimes worth going around the table and asking everyone if they will support the decision. This helps create the appearance of unity and ensure all participants are in agreement.

Consensus building is so powerful for a few reasons. Not only does it ensure everyone is on the same page, but it also helps to reduce conflict within the organization by encouraging employees to speak up and share their thoughts about how the business should run. Allowing staff to have a say creates good will and buy-in, so they’re more likely to agree on a common direction.

It is important to understand that consensus management is a continuous process rather than an outcome. That is, it is not simply a means of reaching a decision but an overall approach to management. With consensus management, staff is continuously provided a voice so they remain engaged in the decision-making process. 

While consensus management has been proven very effective, it does have a few drawbacks. Firstly, not every decision should be made by consensus. Salaries and wages, for example, should not be determined on a consensus basis. That said, however, nearly any major decision can be accomplished by consensus.

A couple other shortcomings of consensus management are how long it takes compared to a manager or owner making the decision, and there is always the risk that the consensus decision is not the best one. 

These limitations should be kept in mind as you evaluate the feasibility of using consensus management in your business decisions. Except for a few cases, however, consensus management can be very beneficial, and you will quickly notice significant improvements in your organization’s culture.

Now go out and see if you can make your business more consensus-oriented.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on Amazon.com. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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