How can I work with a group to reach consensus on an issue?

The group's chair or leader has to have the facilitating skills to allow members to tear apart and put back together each and every idea on the flipchart. With each idea, the group needs to try to achieve consensus. When doubts aren't voiced, the facilitator should be observant enough to see nonverbal cues that suggest some members don't agree.

Since this can be a time-consuming process, and an idea may never get the unanimity that the process is expected to generate, some managers have incorporated a weighted vote at the near end of the process whereby the best ideas are voted on. Slowly ideas are crossed out until only two or three ideas remain. A final vote is used to choose the idea to be pursued.

Despite the effort that goes into consensus decision making, many members of a group come out of the process as disappointed as they might have been had the final decision been made by the team chair. Consensus decision making works only if these three considerations have been met:

- Each member must feel he or she has been heard and understood by the rest of the team.

- Each member must be able to live with the decision or solution.

- Each member must be willing to pull his or her weight in making the final idea a reality.

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Some individuals on the team may feel nonetheless that the wrong decision is being made. If pressure is exerted on them to give in and vote in favor of an idea, the facilitator must step in. There should be no politicking to force participants to vote one way or another. If the participants aren't happy with the conclusion reached, the team chair can offer the nay-sayers other options. For instance, they can add to the minutes their own dissenting viewpoint. Or they can add a trial period for testing the decision. If the pilot project doesn't work, they may want to go back into committee to rediscuss the conclusion reached.

They can also step aside, refusing to participate in implementation of the idea if they so wish.

What can I do to get members to follow through after a meeting?

It may seem simple but the most effective way is to end meetings with a summary of agreed-upon actions, including who is to do what and when. This information should also be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Since commitments made after a meeting can slip participants' minds, you might want to send an e-mail message as a reminder a few days later to communicate to members how important what they agreed to do is. It helps if you establish a norm within the group of "do it the next day"—members should learn over time that they should follow up on their commitments immediately after a meeting.

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If nothing happens, you can call to ask if you can help. This is far more effective than calling to say the individual's work is overdue. The offer to help is likely to be turned down, but it should energize the participant to do as promised.

Still no luck? Shame the individual for his or her failure to follow through by including on the agenda for each meeting a status report of all actions agreed to at the previous meeting. No one wants to be reminded in public about what they haven't done.

How can I skip meetings to get work done without getting flack from the meeting leader?

The simplest way is to send a representative in your place. Ask in advance. Tell the meeting chair that you would like to attend but have some work that must be done immediately. In your place, you would like to send someone who will represent you and therefore your department at the meeting. If you truly mean it, promise to attend the very next session.

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If the sessions will be ongoing, and you see no purpose in attending the meetings, explain your doubt about your need to participate at each and every session. Offer to be a guest at sessions where your contribution will help the group. And keep that promise.

Most managers will appreciate work priorities as a legitimate excuse for someone's inability to attend a meeting session. If they take issue with your comment that you don't see a need to attend regularly, agree to attend a few of the first meetings. You may find that your participation is important—if not to the group's efforts, then to your own group and the commitments that it might be called upon to make based on decisions made by the group.

If early sessions prove that you were right—that you weren't really needed—you can go to the meeting chair and repeat your earlier remark. Ask to continue to be kept involved by receiving minutes from future meeting sessions.

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