A Good Definition of Consensus

In addition to referring me to the California Business Review article, author Michael Roberto also (understandably) referred me to his book. He has a book from 2005 titled Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing Conflict and Consensus. I’m impressed so far, and the first nugget I’m taking from the book is a good definition of consensus.

Consensus, as we define it here, does not mean unanimity, widespread agreement on all facets of a decision, or complete approval by a majority of organization members. It does not mean that teams, rather than leaders, make decisions. Consensus does mean that people have agreed to cooperate in the implementation of a decision. They have accepted the final choice, even though they may not be completely satisfied with it. Consensus has two critical components: a high level of commitment to a chosen course of action and a strong shared understanding of the rationale for the decision.

High level of commitment and shared understanding. Considering these two factors separately can take a lot of pressure off the situation. It is much less about whether we agree or not (because if you don’t agree with me, I might take it personally, and then things get really messy). It is simply about having the discipline to achieve a very high level of shared understanding, and then becoming very clear about the level of commitment each person has to the decision. Usually we are so intent on reaching “consensus” (agreement) that we hurry through the very components of consensus (understanding and commitment).