The best workforce is one that is made not of near-identical employees, but of varied and diverse workers that complement one another. There is strength in difference, but this can mean that getting everyone to agree can seem like an impossible task!

Creating a consensus

Getting your staff to support an idea, or a business development, is not a matter of forcing them all to agree.

You don’t have to ignore anyone’s viewpoint. In fact, it’s best if you don’t.

Everyone should be able to have their say. People should be able to provide alternative suggestions and their own thoughts, which may be valuable throughout the decision-making process.

Eventually, you want a team of people that are willing to stand behind a decision.

With a consensus, everyone will be committed and motivated.

Follow these steps to create a consensus amongst staff:

  • Include every affected employee in your discussions

A consensus within the confines of the meeting room is absolutely useless if, beyond it, there are people that will be affected becoming increasingly bitter.

You should have a management team of decision makers involved in your discussion, but will also need to involve everyone else that will be affected. These will be people at all levels of the business.

Make sure that everyone is involved from the beginning. If you involve people too late in the process, they’ll feel that you’re dictating your ideas to them. If you involve everyone from the start, they’ll feel as though they’re helping to generate the ideas.

  • Have clear rules about discussions

It is important that discussions don’t lead to arguments. Set your ground rules out at the start. Don’t allow personal attacks, bad language or offensive comments. Create a culture of respect.

  • Test employee attitudes regularly

Throughout the process, take time to check in. See where people currently stand. What are their views? Which side of the argument are they on? You will know when you’re close to reaching a consensus, when most people have similar attitudes and when those that don’t could be swayed by a new detail.

  • Provide a variety of ways to contribute

Unfortunately, the “stand up and argue your case” technique isn’t one that works for everyone. Some people back down in the face of confrontation, however mild-mannered and respectful that confrontation may be.

In order to hear a full range of views, you might want to offer alternative ways to contribute. Could people send an email? Could you have a comments box that people can post their thoughts into? These options don’t allow for quick back-and-forth conversation, but could be a better way to gauge the real opinions of the quieter members of your workforce.

  • Ask people to share their reasoning

When someone is giving their opinion, take time to dig a little deeper. Why do they feel that way? What has helped them to make their mind up?

Sometimes, people make incorrect assumptions or have heard something on the grapevine that might not be accurate. If you can separate fact from fiction, you can remove those that are opposing change based on false information.

  • Invite respectful arguments

Debates and arguments can result in the most positive change. Perhaps an employee has a point of view that you hadn’t even considered? Maybe a team member has a strong argument for considering an alternative, that you had previously dismissed?

Don’t stifle comments that don’t fit with your agenda. Encourage your employees to speak up and speak out, if they don’t agree with what you’re aiming for. As long as each member of staff can be calm and respectful, they should be invited to share their opinion. You might find that they make suggestions that you’ll want to take on board to create a successful team.

  • Accept that better ideas might come from others

If you are leading discussions and have your own goals in mind, then you might feel that your way is the best way.

Be open to the possibility that other people may have better ideas than you. Don’t be offended if this is the case. Those good ideas could change your business for the better. Use the best ideas to drive discussion forward.

  • Provide regular breaks

Discussions can be intense. Take regular breaks to allow people to calm down, particularly if people are losing sight of the ground rules.
Regular breaks provide opportunities for everyone to think through what’s been said, compose their thoughts and re-evaluate their opinions. When the discussions are happening, people are often so busy taking information on board that they forget to apply it to their perspective.

  • Accept imperfection

In some cases, everyone will agree. In many cases, they won’t. Some decisions will never result in a full consensus.

It is important to have a discussion that is long enough for everyone to have their say, but your decision-making can’t drag on for months. If you can’t see a consensus happening, draw discussions to a close and try to go with the majority view.

Remember that some people have a lot more responsibility for company decisions than others, so if you’re in charge and you really feel that the majority decision would damage your business, then it’s important to have the confidence to overrule it. It’s unlikely, however, that a sensible group of employees would make a very harmful decision.

The importance of the consensus decision making process

With consensus decision making, the journey is as important as the end goal. Though you might have a decision that you’re hoping to reach, the true value is in the discussions and ideas that are generated along the way.

Some business decisions are best made by one or two people, but in many cases the wider involvement of a varied group of people will produce the best results.

We don’t have time to consult (potentially hundreds of) workers before each and every business decision, so use your time wisely. Get employees to have a say in the choices that directly affect them.

What makes a business a success or failure? See the top 10 reasons for small business success and failure.