A 7 Minute Read - By Chris Bright - posted on September 17, 2020

How to lead your team to consensus, not compromise

On 27th March 2019, The UK’s Parliament started their now famous ‘Indicative Votes’ – MPs voted on 8 separate issues in order to solve the Brexit conundrum. After unceremoniously rejecting both of then-Prime Minister Teresa May’s Brexit deals, Parliament took control and put forward 8 ideas, voting on them with a simple yes/no vote for all.

What happened? 8 votes. 8 ‘No’ verdicts. No progress. Theresa May resigned weeks later.

Here’s the big problem. All 8 ideas were someone’s ideas. Someone thought up a plan, and put it forward for a yes/no vote. But it's easy to reject ideas that aren’t your own. 

The whole Indicative Votes process was screaming out for good facilitation. Facilitation is the process of having an independent voice guide the discussion towards consensus. When I say consensus, I don’t mean lowest-common-denominator compromise. That helps no-one. Consensus is uniting the ‘why’ behind opinions to find a collaborative route forward.

A facilitator by nature should be independent of the impact of the result of the decision. That means they can’t be accused of leading it towards their intended outcome. That can often be the problem when you’re leading the meeting. Everyone’s trying to work out if you’ve already decided where you want this to go. That kills collaboration.

Having a facilitator means that you can now input your ideas to the discussion, you’re now part of the group and you’re submitted to the process as much as the rest of your team. That shows humility and trust in your team.

Maybe your church leadership team can feel a bit like Parliament? Have you been coming up with plans on your own only to have them shot down as soon as you present them to your team or board? Here’s how you can help lead your team towards consensus:

1. Set the tone of humility and collaboration

You’re trying to figure out what’s best for your church. Everyone will have opinions on that, but is your job to lead the way in showing your team that your ideas may not be the only way, or even the best way, it’s just what you can see. If you make it clear that to be part of the team means laying down your opinions for the greater good, then you can start to collaborate on a path forward, but it starts with you. If you’re not willing to lay down your specific ideas, no-one else will.

2. Figure out what’s wrong

What’s the problem? Why is change needed? If something is broken, everyone wants change to fix it, but so often people don’t know what’s wrong. Get everyone to contribute ideas on post-it notes so you’ve got a long list of what’s wrong.

Combine similar ideas together then give everyone three votes as to what the most important problems are. Count up the votes and give the top three. You’ve now got a much clearer picture on what your team is thinking is the problem.

3. Find out the criteria of success

Now, ask your team again to contribute ideas to finding out what’s the criteria for success. What qualities would lead us in the right path? These could be things like, “reach more people for Jesus”, “care for volunteers”, or “financially responsible”. Again, combine similar qualities and then vote for the top three.

4. Think of solutions.

For each problem, spend time with your team coming up with solutions to the problem. At this stage, any idea is a good idea and you’ll need lots of them. Keep the ideas short and concise, which is why using post-it notes is a great idea.

The main aim is to think of as many solutions as possible without blocking other peoples’ ideas. Walt Disney used to fine his team for blocking ideas as it creates a culture of fear in submitting ideas. You also want to think of lots of ideas, your brain will think of the easy answers first, but the more you are pushed to think of ideas, the harder your brain will work to create novel ideas. Set a timer and stick to it. Usually 30 minutes is plenty.

5. Narrow down the options to the best one

If you’ve already figured out your church’s mission statement and values, then ask your team to remove any ideas that don’t fit with these, as any ideas that don’t match your mission and values are non-starters.

Once you’ve done this, give everyone three votes for each three criteria you identified - 9 votes in total. Make a rule that the team can only vote for one of their own ideas per category. This will force them to accept other ideas.  Now look for the ideas that are getting votes across different categories. This should quickly narrow it down to a top two.

At this point you can then put it to the team to accept one of the solutions. It’s often at this stage that someone will accept a combination of the ideas, or it may even be that doing both ideas could be a viable solution. This is all great, and allow ideas to be combined into a super idea.

I’m also a fan of the ‘dark horse’ idea. That’s when a brand new idea comes during the decision-making phase that was what you were looking for all along. Don’t discount the dark horses.

If you can’t combine, then remind the team that both ideas fulfil the criteria you asked for, so whichever one is chosen is now a good idea, then get team to vote between the two ideas. By this point, I usually find that most of the team are happy either way between the two ideas, but there may be one thing that swings the vote for them.

And there you have it… 5 steps to consensus. Now if only Parliament could have done the same.