Sunday, December 21, 2008

Consensus v/s complete agreement

"You don't have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand." Rick Warren - pastor and public speaker

This is a fairly recent quote. Rick Warren, who has been invited by president elect Obama, to deliver invocation address at the time of Obama's inauguration, said this. People criticized Obama for inviting Warren because Warren does not approve of same-sex marriages. He also does not endorse many policies of democrats. Warren is famous for his insightful comments was ready with a great quotation to drive home this  important point. Great quotation.

It will be so nice if we also can learn from this quotation. It is only natural that we do not agree with each other on everything. But, that is not a reason not to cooperate and support each other. We can always find  common ground on many things and forget or put our differences on the back burner for greater good.

Many times we tend to mistakenly think that 'consensus' mean complete agreement. It does not have to mean complete agreement. It many times does not. Then what does consensus mean? Consensus simply means that 'I have heard your point of view. I acknowledge it and support it.' That's it. Supporting something does not require full agreement. It only requires complete commitment.

Understanding this meaning of consensus is very important in our days of consensus based decision making. I think we all agree that command and control type of management is no more in vogue. At least not in corporate world. With knowledge based economy, expecting other smart professionals to heed to your command is a totally wasteful activity. On the other hand, we can not also afford to deliberate for too long to reach  absolute agreement from all parties. What we can do is - to make the best possible presentation of our ideas, present our side very persuasively and then drive to consensus (i.e. above given definition).

One very useful technique to obtain consensus is called 'Fist of five'. It's a very simple technique and can be used in almost any scenario where you need to put an idea for discussion and get some decision made.

For more details about fist of five, you can refer to - There are many such places on the web which describe the technique very well.

Basically, process is simple. You ask the participants to indicate their level of agreement to an idea by raising the number of fingers.

From the above link, the details:


Fist (no fingers raised)

A no vote - a way to block consensus. I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes for it to pass.

1 Finger

I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest changes that should be made.

2 Fingers

I am more comfortable with the proposal but would like to discuss some minor issues.

3 Fingers

I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this decision or a proposal pass without further discussion.

4 Fingers

I think it’s a good idea/decision and will work for it.

5 Fingers

It’s a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it.

If anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, they should be given the opportunity to state their objections and the team should address their concerns. Teams continue the Fist-to-Five process until they achieve consensus (a minimum of three fingers or higher) or determine they must move on to the next issue.)


This is a great technique for decision making process. You need to worry only about a few folks who may have raised 1 or 2 fingers Even if there are many people who do not agree, you get a real good feel for where you stand with your idea. This also does not result in majority overriding the minority.

Of course, there may be some people who can not be convinced at all to come at least to the level of three fingers. Then there is a stalemate. You may need to use some other technique or look really hard at the merits of your idea or if everyone else agrees and the disagreeing member(s) are seen as detractors without merit, you may need to kick them out from your team.

Fist of five is a great technique. Agile teams use this for all purposes. Try it with your team and you will love it.


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