December 14, 2016

Make consensus work for you – and your team

Whether looking for full or majority consensus, leaders know in theory that working closely with their team before making big decisions is more positive for both outcomes and work culture. Effective leaders rarely run a one-person show. With that in mind, it’s important that you train your team to develop realistic expectations about consensus as well as best practices on how to achieve it. These five guidelines can help you achieve the consensus you need, without overlooking your team’s greatest assets.

1. Know what to expect

Before going into a meeting where something important needs to be decided, I try to get a feel for the parties involved. It’s important that you have some sense of the outcome going into the meeting. When you have significant decisions to make, it’s always best to get input ahead of time, so you know that the direction you’re heading is in line with what everyone else wants to achieve – then in the meeting you can focus instead on the details/process of getting things done.

2. The benefits of small groups

In a larger group, try to aim for majority consensus, as opposed to full consensus. For instance, if we need 16 partners to agree on every decision, we won’t get anywhere. When possible, get a group of three or four partners to form a committee. Since it’s easier to think freely in a small group, these committees encourage a greater degree of innovation. By the time we have our larger group meetings, the smaller committees have already reached their conclusions.

3. Get input from everyone

When working with a larger group it’s important to engage everybody to contribute. What you want to avoid is two or three spokespeople taking over the conversation. If a significant decision is being made, try to get input from all of the partners. We don’t want just three or four partners to steer our decisions, simply because they express themselves more strongly than other people who have an equal say in the direction of our business.

4. Majority rules

On most ongoing partnership decisions, we have a strict majority rules policy. However, in the case of extraordinary resolutions – significant decisions like selling the partnership or admitting a new partner – we require support closer to 80 percent.

5. Interpretation is always an issue

When we’re struggling to achieve consensus, it is usually because we have different interpretations of the facts. We recently had a significant decision to make with regard to our lease and there were some strong differences of opinion. Everybody had the same facts, but we had different interpretations about growth and the costs involved. It took a long time, but thanks to a rigorous system of requiring consensus we were able to make the ultimate decision, together.

Ken Tammadge, FCPA, FCA, is Managing Partner with Collins Barrow Ottawa LLP. His primary focus is on transaction services and succession planning. He also assists the Wealth Management Group in dealing with high net worth individuals, with respect to their tax and financial planning needs. In 2013, Ken was elected to Fellowship, the highest designation conferred by the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario. Four to five times a week, he starts his morning with his signature breakfast: a bowl of cereal with blueberries and raspberries.