As we continue to examine how to work with one-hour meetings, today we will consider how to efficiently come to consensus from items from a brainstormed list.
Perhaps your team has brainstormed a list of possible problems they could tackle. Maybe they have developed multiple options for how to solve a problem. Whatever the reason, when a team brainstorms effectively, the result is a long list of possibilities.
Since we recommend teams make decisions by consensus, we need to use the process to determine which item or items we will do from the list. When working with a long list, arriving at consensus by discussing each item on the list could take an inordinate amount of time.
Teams need a method that can help narrow a list to those items the group believes will be most effective (such as from a list of possible solutions) or to prioritize items on the list (perhaps for a list of possible problems on which the team could work.) The process we normally use is Nominal Group Technique, or NGT.
NGT involves a series of steps beginning with brainstorming the original list, individually ranking and assigning a point value to the highest rated items, then totaling the points assigned by everyone in the group. Once the points are totaled, they are displayed for the members to review. The group then discusses the results and determines their consensus decision.
The discussion in the final step is vital to the process. Without it, we do not really have consensus. If only looks at the point totals and goes with them, all we have done is an elaborate voting process. The results, replete with winners and losers, may not truly represent the choice of the entire group and may not create a sense of ownership among the members.
All steps in the NGT up to the final discussions are done without critique or debate of any type. This lack of debate results in a mechanical process which moves quickly from brainstorming through the point totaling. Time is not spent debating the merits of each item or the weaknesses of any alternative.
When the group discusses the outcome, it can come to consensus in a much shorter time than they could by discussing every item. Those with few points assigned are not likely to be considered in the final process. The resulting decision is likely to come from those at the top of the point totals, since everyone participated in the ranking process, but the open discussion will confirm this or permit another item to be selected.
Using a list brainstormed in another meeting, it is usually possible to complete the NGT point assignment and totaling process in a one-hour meeting. Most groups are able to come to consensus during that session, although some carry the discussion to the nest meeting.
There are other techniques that can be used for this process such as multi-voting or criterion-based decision making. Whichever you select, do not forget that all-important last step, discussing the top-level items to arrive at consensus.
At CALMC, we have used the Nominal Group Technique process with many teams in a variety of settings to successfully arrive at consensus decisions. For more information about the steps in the NGT process or help using it with your teams, contact CALMC.