Have you ever been in a meeting and asked “Is everyone okay with this plan?” only to be answered with silence. You prompt again “any concerns or questions"?” again nothing. Finally you announce that you are going to assume silence means consent and move on to the next topic. But here is the big question: Is silence consent?
In order to answer that question, think about what happens after the meeting where you assumed silence was consent. After the meeting, did one of the team members turn to another and start pointing out the flaws in the plan? In the coming days and weeks did anyone keep bringing up that same topic again because of additional concerns? In the worst case scenarios when you go ahead with the plan and it does not work. Is there someone who stands up at the Follow Up meeting and says “I knew this plan would never work”? Those are all signs that the team did not reach a consensus.
The Merriam Webster defines consensus as “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief”. It’s that second definition group solidarity you want to reach with your team. Group solidarity means we all agree to support this decision or plan going forward. That means we won’t walk out of the room and start telling everyone this is a bad idea, and we don’t think it will work. It means that even if it fails you will stand up and say you agreed it was worth trying.
Consensus is not a group vote where majority rules. It is the entire group agreeing to support a decision or idea. There is a very simple technique you can use check for consensus: The Fist of Five.
When you are ready to ask “Is everyone okay with this plan”, each team member responds by raising their fist with one to five fingers.
- Five fingers – You think this is a very good plan and you fully support it
- Four Fingers – You support this plan, it’s not perfect, but you strongly support it
- Three fingers – This plan may not be your first choice, you have some concerns about it, but you understand the arguments presented in the meeting and you agree that given the current circumstances it is a reasonable plan moving forward and you support it
- Two fingers – There is an issue you feel must be resolved before you can support the plan, further discussion or follow up is required before you can support it
- One finger – You do not support this proposal, you do not think it will work, it is going to take some serious convincing to get you to change your mind
If everyone is showing 3 or more fingers then you have consensus. If anyone is showing less than 3 fingers ask them to explain their concern and develop a plan to address and follow up on that concern.
It’s simple, and it works. In fact we had a team meeting this week where we were putting this technique to good use as we discussed how to work with user communities, developers and IT Professionals across Canada. Besides what could be better than a meeting technique that sounds like the title of a Kung Fu movie!
All those in favour?