Gaining Agreement on the Words

By Michael Wilkinson
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies

If you facilitate strategic planning sessions, then you know how difficult it can be to get a group to consensus on a set of words. Whether you are working on mission statements, vision statements, goals, guiding principles or values, gaining agreement on how to word these elements can be a major challenge.

The good news is that there is a strategic planning framework, which we call the Drivers Model, that has specific techniques to help groups get to the key ideas to include in each element of the strategic plan. However, getting to the key ideas doesn’t solve the problem of gaining agreement on the wording.

In my upcoming book, The Secrets to Facilitating Strategy, I describe how with the mission statement the Drivers Model helps groups get to the key ideas by breaking the mission statement into three essential questions.

Mission Questions

  • What do we do?
  • For whom do we do it?
  • What is the benefit?

After the participants answer the three questions as a full group, we have them work in teams to create candidate mission statements based on the answers.  Then as a full group, the participants review each candidate mission statement by identifying what they like about it and how they might improve it.  We then have them select one of the mission statements to use as a starting point.

What happens next is the focus for this article.  Now that they have a starting point, how do you get the group to come to agreement on the exact words to use?

Informed Majority

I have coined the term “informed majority” to describe the process I use.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Once the team gets a first draft of a statement I then ask for any recommended changes.  The objective is to get all the changes first before discussing any one of them.  I record each requested change in a pen color different from the original to highlight the change.
  2. I ask the group to agree that, with wording changes, we want to use a process that helps us avoid spending a lot of time debating them.  To manage the discussion, I will ask someone who wants the change to speak for the change by giving a reason why the change should be made.  If no one speaks for it, the change is dropped because clearly no one supports it.
  3. If someone does speak for the change I then ask someone to speak for leaving the wording as is.  If no one speaks for leaving the wording as it is then the change is made by acclamation, since there is no disagreement.
  4. If someone speaks for leaving the wording as is, I then ask for additional comments.
  5. If a statement has several alternatives, I’ll ask someone to speak for each alternative and for someone to speak for leaving the wording as is.  As before, if no one speaks for an alternative, the alternative is dropped.
  6. Once all comments have been made, I then call for a vote and go with the majority.  The point of voting on wording changes is to go with the will of the group and to avoid significant time spent on word-smithing.
  7. If there are multiple alternatives and no alternative receives a majority of those voting, then all but the top two alternatives are dropped, I ask for comments for the two alternatives and a revote is done.
  8. Once all decisions are made about the wording, I rewrite the statement and seek confirmation for acceptance, typically using the five-finger consensus method.

The point of informed majority is to make decisions about wording in an efficient and effective manner, while ensuring that all voices are heard and time is given to create and discuss alternatives.  Once I have used a process a couple of times with a group, they tend to catch on right away and welcome the structure to help guide their decision-making.

You can learn more about strategic planning techniques in our on-line strategy course, Springboard Online  or in my upcoming book, The Secrets of Facilitating Strategy.  If you would like assistance in developing your strategic plan, you may be interested in looking at our three strategic planning packages.

About the Author

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company, and a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator. As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators and a board member of the National Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry. You can get more tips from either of Michael’s books, The Secrets of Facilitation or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. You can receive a signed copy through our website.

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