The Six Sigma quality methodology almost always requires a Black Belt or Green Belt to lead a team in solving a problem. When teams members interact – and no matter how well the Black or Green Belt can facilitate – opinions of the individual team members will inevitably differ and the team may end up deadlocked, compromising the team’s forward progress.

So what do you do? Throw up your hands? Yell at the most difficult person? Call a break? I’m sure we’ve all felt like doing all of these things (at the same time!), but really there is a better way. It’s called consensus building, and it is needed to help the team determine the relative importance of topics, issues or problems. Consensus is a technique that allows everyone on the team to equally play an active role in determining the group’s final decision.

Where Can Consensus Building Be Used?

It can be used anytime a team needs to choose a course of action from a list of possible actions. So, for instance, you may need the team to decided which solution should be pursued from a list of brainstormed options. Or you might want your quality council to select which of three projects should be undertaken first. Obviously, a Quality function deployment or Pugh matrix would also be useful in these situations, but would take longer to perform and your decision may not require that much detail.

How Consensus Building Works

Consensus building is a simple concept, producing a team agreement at the conclusion. Here are the major steps involved in consensus building.

  1. Brainstorm possible topics, issues or problems associated with your Six Sigma project. Make sure you follow proper brainstorming rules so that team creativity isn’t limited.
  2. Briefly discuss all brainstormed options. Limit discussions to a couple minutes per option.
  3. Affinitize (combine) similar concepts so duplicates are removed from the list.
  4. Add any additional topics, issues or problems that may have resulted during the discussion. It is important for the team to realize that all input (regardless of when it was said) is needed.
  5. Ask the team to discuss the options and select a single, selected topic, issue or problem from the list.
  6. If consensus among the team members cannot be reached (that’s surprising!), a voting process should be utilized. In addition, it is useful to inform the team that consensus is the primary decision process, with voting being the fall-back process if agreement cannot be reached. That way, everyone knows the process before you begin.

A Simple Voting Process When Building Consensus Does Not Work

Voting is used when a team just can’t make it to consensus. Having brainstormed, affinitized and come to agreement on the options available, you then begin the fall-back process of voting.

  1. Count the total number of options available.
  2. Divide the total number by 3. This is your “voting amount” (e.g. If 15 options are available, your voting amount is 5).
  3. Assign everyone on the team a “voting amount” quantity of stickers to place next to their top choices. You can also have the team place check-marks or pen tick-marks instead of stickers.
  4. Count the total number of stickers next to each option, and place the total in a circle next to each option.
  5. Come to agreement with the team that the option with the highest count will be undertaken. Of course, the team should know and have agreed to this at the beginning of the process, otherwise you may have just wasted precious time.
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