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How to build consensus as a facilitator part 1: Applying inclusive principles

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Great Job!! As a facilitator your meeting is going well, the participants have generated new ideas and you have lead them through discussing these ideas. Now it’s time for the meeting to converge and some decisions to be made. How do you build consensus? 

In many meetings, participants want to stick to their own ideas, get excited with past-paced thinking and make hasty decisions and some others might have trouble thinking creatively.

What can you do as a facilitator to help the group develop inclusive alternatives and synthesize them into a solution that will work for everyone?

Applying Inclusive Principles

Inclusive principles promote a both/and mind set. Let’s take an example:

A large team was organized into two components teams, one building the workflow engine and the other building the user interface and business logic of a credit approval system. The team building the workflow engine were moving slow due to complications they uncovered while the user interface team had created a lot of their solutions and now waiting for the other team. This irritated the workflow team and as they continued to get delayed they became more and more defensive and harder to work with. The business was getting impatient and were always conveyed the message from a outspoken member of the workflow team that they could not find common ground to work with the user interface team.

The scrum master decided to host a one day event to bring the two teams together. The started with a team building event where each group had two participants one from each of the component teams. They had to play a game to compete with the other groups and surviving and winning in the game meant depending on each other.

The event was a huge success where everyone developed good relationships with each other as well learnt a lot about each other and became more and more comfortable with each other. 

The scrum master maintained the same pairs and re-stated their product goal which was to build a credit approval system that would change the game in the bank being able to onboard new customers. He reminded them it was not to build a superior workflow engine or a superior user interface. 

The pairs in each group were asked to work together to discuss the design and plan so the product can come together over smaller iterations to provide incremental value to their customers. This exercise forced each participant to think as a team and bring their best expertise to the table.

The Solution

Initially the two sides locked horns and argued over who was to blame.  The breakthrough came when they all shared a common concern

Principle: Discovering Common Ground

Affixing blame, polarizing into opposite camps and calling for help from the powers that may be is a typical strategy for dealing with problems. In this example the participants focused on discovering a common concern and they aimed at delivering on a shared goal. This helped them collaborate effectively and take constructive self-empowered action

Other principles that promote a both/and mindset

  1. Breaking with tradition: Many of you might have heard this statement “This is how we do things here”. Some the facilitator can do is question anything that seems impossible and Challenge fixed assumptions: If something has been done always one way does not mean it has to be done that way in the future. 
  2.  “You cut and I choose” Create more interdependence between the alternatives: A single conference room on a floor was a shared resource with each vying to book time. Many teams would book in advance and not use it while other teams who did not book would have to find alternatives. Several complaints went to leadership and it was decided that a booking would be valid for the first 10 minutes and if a team that had booked did not show up another team could use it. In addition a few larger offices went unused most of the times. It was also decided to covert them to smaller conference rooms that could be used by several small size teams. This principle enables everyone have an opportunity to the use of the fixed resource
  3. Including the troublemakers in the solution:  Normally we try to “fix” the people who make trouble. Instead it sometimes is better to treat the troublemakers as stakeholders and involved them in the problem solving process.  If their needs can be understood they might become allies in transforming the problem
  4. Creating unusual partnerships: An enterprise was looking for a product that would serve the needs of different business lines. Each business line had different needs. The architect decided to do a build vs. buy analysis and he found that a vendor product gave them the resiliency, security, and stability. It also provided an industry wide established framework. The build solution was by an internal team whose solution was proprietary and needed a large operations team to maintain. It had built several customized solutions that would be appropriate to fit the needs of the business lines. Instead of making a decision of one vs the other, the architect decided to have the internal team partner with the vendor to deliver a product that had the benefits of both.  The groups in this case partnered to identify solutions from unusual  sources that were foreign to their own context

In the next part, I will share another technique, creative reframing to build consensus and help groups make decisions. 

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