Getting to Consensus with the FMEA Team
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
Martin Luther King
One of the challenges for any team leader is bringing the team together and agreeing on decisions and actions going forward.
Consensus building is the best practice for all of the FMEA team decisions. This means the FMEA team takes the time to understand all sides of an issue and finds a solution or determines a course of action that is supported by all team members. Facilitating is a consensual activity.
What is consensus?
One of the best descriptions of consensus and the consensus process I have seen is excerpted from an article written by Rob Sandelin called “Basics of Consensus.” In this article, the author writes:
Consensus is a group process where the input of everyone is carefully considered and an outcome is crafted that best meets the needs of the group. It is a process of synthesizing the wisdom of all the participants into the best decision possible at the time. The root of consensus is the word consent, which means to give permission to. When you consent to a decision, you are giving your permission to the group to go ahead with the decision.
Why is consensus the right decision making process in FMEAs?
FMEA is a team activity. As covered in the article “Assembling the Correct FMEA Team”
There are three primary reasons for the necessity to have the correct team when doing an FMEA.
1. People have “blind spots.” A well-defined cross-functional team minimizes the errors inherent with “blind spots.”
2. The FMEA analysis requires subject-matter experts from a variety of disciplines to ensure incorporation of all necessary inputs into the exercise, and that the proper expertise is applied to the design or process being analyzed.
3. One of the indispensable values of an FMEA is the cross talk and synergy between subject-matter experts that occurs during the meetings. Well-defined groups can discover things that individuals often miss.
Simply stated, by building consensus, the FMEA teams bring together their best thinking and applies it to the FMEA project.
What are hallmarks of a good consensus process?
The hallmarks of a good consensus process include:
- Many ideas are shared
- Discussion is based on facts
- Everyone is heard
- There is active listening, clarification, building of ideas
- No one pushes a predetermined solution
- Team is satisfied with final solution
This question embodies the key to good team decisions: “Have we gotten to a well-thought-out solution that we all concur is the best possible and that everyone on the team can commit to implement?”
What if the team has difficulty coming to consensus?
In most cases, the FMEA facilitator can help the team achieve consensus by using the facilitation skills outlined in the FMEA Facilitation Series of articles.
However situations can arise where the facilitator has difficulty getting to consensus. If the facilitator has worked with the team and worked through the hallmarks of the decision making process and the previously described arsenal of facilitation skills, then it may be time to try another technique. One such technique is described below.
Situation: What to do when two team members have strongly competing ideas or solutions.
1. Ask the first team member who has a competing idea (Team Member 1) to briefly explain their idea or solution. Write this explanation down, and make sure what is written is visible and agreed to by Team Member 1.
2. Do the same for the team member who has the opposing idea (Team Member 2). Make sure what is written is visible and agreed to by Team Member 2.
3. Ask Team Member 1 for their specific objections to the idea(s) of Team Member 2. Write them down and make sure what is written is agree to by Team Member 1.
4. Ask Team Member 2 for their specific objections to the idea(s) of Team Member 1. Write them down and make sure what is written is agree to by Team Member 2.
5. Once you are certain you have documented the competing ideas and their objections, show to the entire team and look for solutions.
6. Use brainstorming and active listening to come to agreed-upon solutions that satisfy Team Member 1 and 2, and the entire FMEA team.
Many times, merely writing down the specific competing ideas and their objectives will be sufficient to surface solutions. If not, reviewing with the the entire team usually brings about creative ideas and solutions.
What is not consensus?
It is not a majority opinion. I’ve been at meetings led by a facilitator that used voting to arrive at “consensus.” Why does that not work? Because often a minority of the team or even a single person has the right answer, and only by actively listening and using good facilitation skills does the best idea come forward.
It is not a dominant opinion. See article “Unique Challenges When Facilitating FMEAs” for specific suggestions to use when someone tries to dominate the meetings.
It is not the opinion of the senior most person. As I’ve written before, each person who is part of an FMEA team brings certain expertise that is needed. If an executive or senior person attends they can only contribute if they stay focused on their specific expertise, not on their senior position.
People say they agree, but do not support the decision. I’ve seen this countless times. People that profess to agree but have either not thought it through or know that they will not actively support what is being discussed, once the meeting is concluded.
Remember, “Have we gotten to a well-thought-out solution that we all concur is the best possible and that everyone on the team can commit to implement?”
Look for body language that may indicate underlying disagreement or concerns. Ask for input from anyone who appears to have a concern. Create the environment that encourages dissent and open conversation.
The next article in the FMEA Facilitation Series is “Evaluating FMEA Facilitators,” which describes a simple and effective way to evaluate the performance of facilitators and improve their skills.