Building consensus in your team is the process through which your group comes to a decision on an issue. In virtual teams, there is an added dimension of difficulty when it comes to making decisions and building consensus. In virtual teams it is essential to deliberately make up for the lack of non-verbal cues in virtual meetings. Successful consensus building involves acknowledging that making decisions will be more difficult in a virtual setting, and taking measured steps in order to facilitate decision making. This guide will help you take steps to successfully build consensus among your virtual team.
Before a virtual meeting
Gather opinions before the meeting
In advance of your virtual meeting, be sure to gather opinions from team members on non-controversial topics. This way you can avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time during your meeting discussing things everyone agrees on.
Keep meetings small
Having more than eight people in a virtual meeting can stifle participation from the individuals in the group.
Devote time to disagreement
Sometimes it can be easy to hastily make decisions in a meeting when the time allotted to discussing the issue does not suffice. When planning your agenda, be sure to outline how much time you plan to spend on a given issue or topic, and plan some extra time to hearing voices who may disagree.
Send an agenda at least one week in advance
Sending the agenda gives your team members a chance to collect their thoughts, or ask questions.
During a meeting
Beware of false consensus
In virtual teams meetings, the first or loudest voice tends to dominate. Without in-person cues, it can be difficult to include minority opinions. If your team comes to a decision quickly, beware of false consensus. The chair of the meeting should ask specifically and directly if there are any opposing or differing ideas, opinions, or viewpoints. Check for agreement before proceeding.
Have a Pro-Con discussion
When discussing an issue for which you need to come to a decision, explicitly ask the groups for pros and cons, even if you think the pros and cons are obvious. Make note of these lists in the minutes. Objectively listing the pros and cons can help both sides of the argument understand each other more completely.
When your team comes to an agreement, the meeting chair should repeat clearly the decision that has been made. This ensures that everyone has the same understanding of the agreement that has been made.
Do a round-table to ask for individual opinions
A group member’s silence does not imply their consent with the issue at hand. When issues are being discussed, take a round-robin of the members of the group to make sure that all opinions are heard and no voices are lost.
Use a poll application to collect anonymous responses
If you are trying to come to a decision without forcing people to outwardly share their views, you can use an online polling tool during your meeting. Easypolls and Doodle both provide quick and easy voting mechanisms for in-meeting polling. For longer surveys, the LITA Office can set up a SurveyMonkey poll for you.
After the meeting
Send the minutes within a day or two
Be sure to send out meeting minutes one or two days following your virtual meeting. When you send the minutes, ask for input or corrections right away, while the conversation is still fresh in your team members’ minds. Give members the opportunity to voice disagreement with the interpretation of the meeting by explicitly asking for corrections.
Implement the decision
Follow up with team members who were assigned action items related to the decision, and see its implementation through.
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