Clearly, the decision modes of the team will reflect the leadership style of the project manager, which in turn is influenced by the development stage of the team. For example, arriving at a consensus for a complex problem may be too difficult for the team early in the project when they are still forming. During the Storming phase, the team is likely to challenge a leader who is not using participative decision styles. This need to change leadership styles during the project increases the need for the project leader to be clear about which decision mode is being pursued from problem to problem. Further, the team's ability to participate in choosing decision styles relies on the entire team's awareness of the factors that cause each mode to be appropriate.
Building decisions through consensus can produce superior decisions, because we leverage the knowledge and skills of the team. Consensus is not the same as unanimity, where every participant agrees that the decision is the best choice. Rather, we reach a consensus when every participant can agree that the decision process was fair, that their perspective was heard and understood, and that each of them can support implementation of the decision.
Here are five leadership tips for reaching consensus in meetings:
1. Follow a structured problem-solving process. Begin with a clear understanding of the problem or decision to be made. Use the structure to create focus at each step of the process.
2. Manage group participation. Encourage people to use active listening skills. Ensure a balance of power—don't allow the most vocal to dominate or the least vocal to not participate. Use a method to ensure each person has been heard at each step of the process.
3. Embrace conflict as a sign of creative thinking. People should avoid changing positions just to avoid conflict. Examine differences of opinion thoroughly.
4. Build consensus. Seek alternatives that satisfy the goals of all members. Try to find ways to integrate multiple viewpoints.
5. Know how you'll make the final decision. Identify an alternative decision method in advance in case the team deadlocks.
The key to consensus is ensuring balanced participation and creating a decision everyone will support in implementation. To arrive at the final decision, Kristin Arnold offers the "Five L" scale.2 Once it seems the group has come to a decision, the leader asks everyone to rank the decision on the Five L scale: You loathe it. You will lament it, complaining about the decision after the meeting. You can live with it. You like it. You love it! If there are people who will either loathe or lament the decision, then you aren't finished.
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We can all recall situations where we have utterly failed to listen to what someone else is saying. For various reasons, we are simply not taking in anything useful. How many times have you been introduced to a person by name only to not know what their name is thirty seconds later?