Scenario: Consensus

As an Action Learning Coach how would you handle the following situation:

The team is having trouble reaching consensus on what the real problem is.

Tags: Action Learning Coach

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Comments (7)

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    Dee Handyside

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    I was recently a group participant in this exact situation. If this has happened after a coach intervention and the coach has asked the team if they agree on the problem (yes or no), I would then ask them to take some time and write down what each member feels the problem is. After each member has read their understanding of the problem, I would again go around as ask if each person thinks they have consensus on the problem.

    I would say “the team clearly doesn’t have consensus here on what the problem is – how could we clarify this?” and wait for suggestions (hopefully someone will request further information from the problem presenter). After some more group discussion, I’d intervene again with the standard “Do you think the group is clear on what the problem is (yes or no) and again ask each individual to state their interpretation. This technique can need to happen several times in order to get clarification – and its amazing to see how individuals perceptions about the problem change – including the problem presenter!
    In our case, it became clear to the group that there were actually 2 problems. The coach asked the problem presenter which problem was the most urgent and pressing and the group was then back on track to providing solutions.

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    Chjames

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    Another context for this challenge is when a portion of the team writes down and then shares something that is more like a problem statement and others share something more like a goal statement, or statements that are a combination of the two. I have often asked something like, “What defines a problem statement?” The team usually realizes that they are not operating off the same definition, they iron out a single definition and then proceed back to working together on their problem statement. It helps remind the group to ask themselves and each other about checking in and agreeing to common definitions – an important leadership skill.

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    Carole

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    I really like the comment by CHJames–asking the group to define “problem statement” is a great intervention.

    Another thought: after a couple of rounds of asking the group to write down the problem, I might ask the group…”What question could you ask now that might help the group reach consensus on the problem?”

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    Phil Cohen

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    This is very timely, as this exact scenario played itself out this afternoon during an AL session with a group using AL for the 1’st time. There were some great questions asked, several different positions on the problem were expressed. I had the group write down their problem definition; we reviewed their positions; we asked what different approach we might take to take to help reach consensus . In one intervention I asked “I notice that there are several viewpoints on the root of the problem. Would it be helpful if we took these one at a time and did a deeper analysis to determine their true impact on the problem?” Unfortunately , we only had one hour and we were starting to run tight on time. Because this was the 1’st time the group had used Action Learning I suggested and it was agreed that we would meet in two weeks to further define the problem. In the interim, an email would be sent to each participant outlining each group members understanding of the problem as they had written it. The group was asked to think about the approach we might take that would help us reach consensus.

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    John Roberts

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    I too have been working with a group that is new to Action Learning. I have found that as a coach it is very tempting to jump in and push the team in the direction I think they should move. It never ceases to amaze me that if I am patient the group will eventually get there, and learn something about themselves and the process along the way. I have been using an adaptation of the “stages of effective problem solving” model that’s used in the foundations class. I use an LCD projector and just leave it up during the session. I will ask the group to write down their understanding of the problem and they quickly want to believe that they have consensus on the problem so they can move on (and it’s apparent that they really don’t). I will let them go on for a little while and then will ask them “what stage are we on in the effective problem solving model?” Eventually, they come back to clearly defining a problem statement. The group is really learning not only how to solve the problem they have been tasked with but also the importance of the “process” to solving any problem.

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    Daniel Belet

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    This consensus issue of the group seems to me a major point in the process of AL, as the end up solutions will be directly linked to the quallity of the upstream outcome. In case of trouble reaching a consensus I would suggest the problem presenter to express again his issue, may be with different words or some more details. This should raise more questions from the group and help, at least, some persons to get a new understanding about it. But as a previous comment righltly stresses it, the problem statement must not be confused with the goals in order to clarify the understanding of the very roots of the problem and also to prevent from braking the creativity potential of the group.

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    DrBea

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    Great responses. Since it is for the team to decide when they are at consensus – I would simply ask – What would help us get to consensus?

    Depending on the team – I might ask – What does consensus mean?

    Happy Coaching
    Bea

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