IIFAC Blog

Taking the human factor into account

In the previous edition of Coffee Break we suggested several ways to balance the contents of an agenda with the time available for the meeting. While these “structural” elements can go a long way toward improving the atmosphere and effectiveness of the meeting, we also need to consider the human factor in the planning of any agenda.

Each meeting is unique in the sense that the context of the group can change between one meeting and the next.

The spirit of the participants will be affected by factors in their personal lives as well as in their workplace. Any template that is used to plan an agenda (and it is highly recommended to do so – see the free download below) must be subject to modification according to the particular circumstances that surround each group encounter.

Here is a list of some of these “human” aspects to consider when designing an agenda.

Analysis of the group context


The group is
___ Meeting for the first time
___ Meeting again after a long period
___ About to dissolve (this is the last meeting)

The participants
____ All know each other
____ There are some new people
____ Have conflicts with each other
____ Are culturally diverse

The group is
____ In crisis
____ Stuck
____ Under stress, worried
____ Celebrating a victory or mourning a loss

Lately, meetings have been
____ Tedious
____ Not productive
____ Exceeding allotted time
____ Dynamic
____ Very productive
____ Finished on time (or earlier!)

The topics to discuss are
____ Routine
____ Complex
____ Controversial
____ Urgent
____ Important

Other factors to consider

Having analyzed the context, we must ask ourselves, to achieve the objective of this meeting

  • What do we have to keep doing or do more?
  • What do we need to change?
  • Who can help us?
  • Is this meeting really necessary?

In next month´s Coffee Break, we will share ideas about changes that you can make in the agenda design to respond to the “human factor”. Meanwhile, here is a free template for a “generic” agenda that you can download.

Need help analysing the “human factor” in your meetings? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

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Meetings and Innovation

In a world where innovation is discussed in relation to every organizational area, why do meetings remain stuck in the 19th century?

We know that meetings, whether face-to-face or virtual, are often necessary, but how can we justify those that fail to produce useful results, wasting the time of all involved?

Here is a specific example of the kind of complaints our clients bring to us:

“In our team meetings we almost never manage to discuss all the topics on the agenda. This situation is frustrating for all. What can we do?”

First of all, congratulations! At least you have an agenda! Now let´s see how you can adjust the contents to the available time.

Which of these strategies have you tried?

  • Prioritize agenda items. Give preference to those topics that require a decision.
  • Eliminate reports. Do not include topics that are merely informational such as reports, when no substantive discussion or decision is required. Find other ways to share that information.
  • Prepare supporting materials. Ensure that those who are going to present topics prepare and share the relevant information ahead of time. If the materials are not ready, postpone the topic until another meeting.
  • Define the expected result. Each agenda item should be linked to an outcome that justifies the time invested. Examples of expected results include: generate options, define criteria, make a decision, etc.
  • Time control. Assign time limits for each item (be a bit generous!) and then respect them.
  • Select participants with care. Convene only those who have a direct responsibility and/or knowledge relevant to the topics on the agenda.

If, despite having introduced all of these “innovations” into your meeting culture, the time is still not sufficient to discuss all the items on the agenda, consider the possibility of increasing the frequency or the duration of the meetings. Do not continue to put 10 kilos of potatoes in a 5-kilo bag!

Need help improving your meetings? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

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[video] Three ways that consensus process forced me to grow

Consensus demands a lot from those who practice it. The process itself requires us to change some of the bad habits —vices really— that get in the way of reaching agreement with others.

In this short video I describe three personal challenges that I had to overcome in order to participate effectively in consensus decision-making processes.

To learn more about what consensus is and how to use it effectively, download IIFAC’s free Guide to Consensus Process.

Need help using the consensus process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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Does every decision require consensus?

The short answer to the question “Does every decision require consensus?” is “No, of course not!

The even shorter answer is “It depends.”

Groups implementing consensus process for the first time tend to want everyone to decide everything. While understandable, this is an unsustainable expectation. It leads to too many meetings, long discussions about trivial details and, eventually, disenchantment with the whole process.

Here are two ways to avoid this common mistake:

  • Bundle all the routine, uncontroversial decisions (e.g., approval of minutes of previous meetings, proposals that have been previously vetted by a committee, etc.) into one item on the agenda (sometimes called the “consent agenda”) and approve them all together. If one of the issues turns out to be more controversial than expected, it is removed from the “bundle” and treated separately.
  • Delegate. Once the group has reached consensus on the broad concept and any constraints (such as budget, etc,) related to a proposed course of action, it can leave the decisions about how to “make it happen” to those empowered to implement it.
Need help clarifying the decision-making process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

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Leadership in groups that use consensus [FREE GUIDE]

Many groups choose to use consensus process because they want an alternative to the organizational model in which the “leaders” decide everything. They seek a more horizontal structure which honors everyone’s contribution.

These good intentions often result in one or more of the following, unhelpful scenarios:

  • Inhibition. Members are afraid to speak their mind or make proposals because they do not want to be seen as “taking control.” So they hold back and the group muddles along without the benefit of their insights and opinions.
  • Lack of inhibition. Members who are accustomed to “being in charge” in other contexts continue to behave as if they are the anointed leaders. Often unaware of the ways they shut others out of the process, they speak forcefully, listen little and assume that they are “right.”

The real promise of consensus is not that it creates “leaderless groups” but that it fosters groups that are FULL OF LEADERS.

To learn more about what consensus is and how to use it effectively, download IIFAC’s free Guide to Consensus Process

Need help using the consensus process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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Success factors for using consensus [Free guide]

Consensus does not just happen. Certain conditions must prevail in order for a group to reach a clear agreement that (almost) everyone will support.

IIFAC’s recently published, free Guide to Consensus Process mentions five factors that can increase the odds that your group can effectively use this approach for making key decisions.

  1. Commitment to learning a new way to discuss and decide important issues.
  2. Training. Get help to avoid falling into the common mistakes made by groups who lack a solid understanding of how the process works.
  3. Shared vision and joint action. The group needs to have some sort of common purpose and an intention to take action together. Otherwise, why bother with consensus?
  4. Membership is defined and stable but not closed. Consensus functions best when there is trust and caring among the members of the group. These conditions are more likely prevail when members know who else is in the room.
  5. Good facilitation. As a professional facilitator, I am biased on this issue! But I am also a participant in many meetings and have seen the damage that can be done when no one takes responsibility for preparing an agenda, keeping the discussion on track and at the appropriate moment, carrying out the decision-making process.

To learn more about what consensus is and how to use it effectively, download IIFAC’s free Guide to Consensus Process.

Need help using the consensus process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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Consensus can be confusing [Free guide]

Consensus means different things to different people – and this can be confusing.

For some, consensus signifies “general agreement.” This vague assertion does not tell us how this alleged agreement was reached or the level of commitment it represents.

Sometimes “consensus” is used as a synonym for “majority vote”. As explained in a previous post, this is NOT how consensus works! In fact no votes are taken when making a decision by consensus.

Others believe that consensus implies a warm, fuzzy state of group harmony. In my experience, groups that use consensus effectively welcome a diversity of opinion, when necessary engage in heated discussions and work hard to discover common ground, if it exists. In short, consensus can be a strenuous process that does not assume pre-existing harmony.

To learn more about what consensus is and how to use it effectively, download IIFAC’s free Guide to Consensus Process.

Need help using the consensus process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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Consensus process does not mean that everyone decides everything

This common misconception that “we all decide everything together” is a recipe for frustration and failure. True consensus process does not mean endless meetings and little forward momentum toward common goals.

Key concept: Decide on strategic goals and then get out of the way.

Once the whole group reaches consensus about vision, values and strategic priorities, then the tactical decisions about how to get there should be delegated to those responsible for implementation.

Give these teams a budget and the tools to succeed. Establish clear limits about what kind of decisions need to be brought back to the whole group (for example, expenditures over a set limit, changes in policy or direction, issues requiring legal counsel, etc.) Otherwise, move out of the way and let people get on with the work!

Often “everyone decides everything” is a symptom of lack of trust among the individuals in the group, but, believe me, trust is not built by micro-managing day-to- day decisions.

Sometimes it is a sign that at least some of the members want to spend more time together. Great! Have more parties, hikes or cultural outings – not more meetings!

Creating and sustaining an effective group is a challenge under any circumstances. Clarifying your decision making structure is an important piece of the puzzle.

If you think consensus might be useful for your group, read my recently published book Introduction to Consensus
and send me your thoughts and questions!

Let´s keep striving to find ways to make decisions that move us toward the world we want to live in.

Need help using the consensus process in your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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Should my group try to make decisions by consensus?

The short answer is: Maybe.

Here are some conditions that work against the successful adoption of consensus process:

  • Leadership values control over collaboration, that is, the leaders do not want to share decision-making power.
  • Membership in the group is not clearly defined so it is hard to know who decides.
  • High turnover among participants prevents building trust or momentum.
  • Facilitators and/or participants are untrained in the process, leading to confusion and/or distortion of the method.
  • The group does not intend to make and implement decisions together, preferring to debate, discuss or study issues without any need to take action.

Turning this list on its head, you can identify some of the characteristics that suggest when a group might benefit from consensus process:

  • Leadership and members are committed to learning and practicing the method.
  • Initial training and on-going coaching is available.
  • The group has a clear purpose that unites the members.
  • Membership is relatively stable and new members receive training in the process.
  • Meeting facilitators understand and support the consensus process.

To learn more about what consensus process is and how to apply it, read my recently published book, Introduction to Consensus.

Let´s keep striving to find ways to make decisions that move us toward the world we want to live in.

Need help deciding if consensus is a good fit for your group? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching needs.

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Consensus is not voting by majority rule

This comes as a surprise to those of you who are accustomed to voting and then, if more people are for the proposal than against, declaring “consensus.”

If the vote is very close, say 51% to 49%, the only conclusion that one can reach is that almost as many were against the proposal as for it. This situation is a sign of deep polarization, not widespread agreement.

Even if the margin of “victory” is higher, say 80% of the votes cast, the result tells us nothing about how committed those who voted in favor are to implementing the decision.

Finally, reaching consensus does not necessarily mean 100% unanimity. This decision-making rule offers a more nuanced set of options than simply being “for” or “against” a proposal.

More importantly, before the decision is taken, the process calls for participants to both advocate for their preferred solutions and listen attentively to the concerns of those who have different perspectives and then make a good faith effort to resolve those differences.

If you find these ideas intriguing or challenging, you can learn more in my recently published book, Introduction to Consensus.

Let´s keep striving to find ways to make decisions that move us toward the world we want to live in.

Need help clarifying the difference between making decisions by consensus and voting? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your coaching or training needs.

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