November 28, 2023

Small Business Advice

Consensus building is so important for every manager

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jerry Osteryoung | 8/24/2014

FBMC Benefits Management

Having an empowered staff is so important for every organization. An empowered staff feels some responsibility for all the business decisions, and managers should be encouraging this in as many ways as possible -- especially with Millennials. When you empower your staff, they feel ownership over the company and, as a result, have a vested interest in ensuring it performs well.

There are so many ways to promote empowerment, and one of the best is through consensus building. This engages every staff member and draws out the collective wisdom of the group.

Many people believe having a consensus requires that all team members agree, but that is not the way consensus building is done. Consensus building is about allowing each staff member to have a voice in the decision. Once a decision is made, however -- and this is the critical part -- every person supports it, whether they agreed with it or not.

A member of one of the boards I serve on often has an opposing view from the rest of us. Normally the votes are six to one, with his being the only “no” vote. Some might assume this would cause discord, but when the meeting is over and the decision is made, he is such a great team player that he backs it 100 percent.

Clearly, it is possible to have a consensus without all parties seeing things the same way, but it is important to have a way of coming to a decision when there is not universal agreement. Oftentimes, the leader makes the decision, but this method is fraught with issues. Staff may begin to wonder why they are put through this process if they do not have any real ability to influence the decision. This is why I rarely -- if at all -- recommend this approach.

Majority rules is another decision-making model many use when opinions differ. I find this model works well in most cases. One exception is when the lead person feels as if the group is going down the wrong rabbit hole.

Whatever decision method you choose, it is important to have those criteria in place before you begin consensus building. Everyone should know the rules in advance.

A second critical piece of consensus building is that everyone has a say. With varying personalities, it is easy to see how some people might be overwhelmed or intimidated by other strong and vocal team members. If this happens, they may say nothing. For this reason, I often go around the table and have each person say how they believe the problem should be addressed. This ensures each person has an opportunity to present his or her idea(s) to the group.

Finally, when going into a consensus meeting, you should have a set amount of time you want to spend on the issue and a timekeeper to be responsible for ensuring the meeting does not run over. A note taker should be chosen so people can recall the essence of the meeting and the factors considered.

Now go out and try consensus building in your organization. Just start slowly to ensure you feel comfortable with it.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly 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 an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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