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Two Teamwork Processes - Brainstorming & Consensus

Don Grimme

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Two of the interactive processes essential for the functioning of real teams are: brainstorming and consensus.

Brainstorming is a freewheeling exchange of ideas without judgment or discussion, where team members build on each other's ideas. Done right, five to ten heads are better than one.

Beyond that basic statement, you really need to experience brainstorming to get it; and your team needs to practice brainstorming (preferably with a seasoned facilitator) to actualize its potential.

Consensus also needs to be experienced and practiced, but an intellectual understanding of what it is (and isn't) is useful.

Consensus is the best thinking of all group members.

How do you obtain that best thinking? Let's specify, first, what you don't do. You don't vote!

  • A unanimous vote (representing everyone's first priorities) is highly unlikely.
  • A majority vote might not be supported by the minority.

Consensus is reaching a decision acceptable enough that no team member opposes it. This might not sound all that exciting, but it means that all can support it.

Think about the significance of this proposition. If, indeed, the team members possess necessary complementary skills, then the opinions and buy-in of every member are critical to the team's success.

Well, if they don't vote, how does a team reach this consensus?

Often, they start with brainstorming to generate ideas and potential solutions. Then they zero in on (and tweak) the best ideas by:

  1. Using well-honed communications skills like listening and assertion
  2. Tuning in to each other's non-verbal cues . . . and
  3. Practicing RESPECT. [See our “Managing The Human Resource" article for the behaviors represented by this acronym. ]


  1. Gather your team together. [For this purpose, it doesn't matter what type of team they are. ]
  2. Brainstorm ideas for a team name and/or logo. [Just ideas; no decision yet. ]
    • Give everyone a minute or two of silence to think about it.
    • Select a recorder, who writes down all ideas on a flipchart.
    • Invite everyone to call out ideas. No holding back, discussion or comments.
    • Encourage people to hitchhike - build upon ideas generated by others.
  3. Take a break - a few minutes or a few days.
  4. Meet again to decide on the team name and/or logo . . . using consensus. [At least for the purpose of the activity. You don't have to publish the name/logo to others. ]
  5. During the next few days, talk about what the brainstorming and consensus experiences were like - in meetings and informally.

    • What went well? What could have gone better?
    • How do brainstorming and consensus compare with your team's normal ways of generating ideas and reaching decisions? Pros and cons.
    • For what purposes might your team want to utilize either or both processes?

The Grimmes conduct customized onsite training workshops and large group presentations for organizations in every sector of the economy. Their groundbreaking book on managing people in today's workplace will be published by AMACOM in the second half of 2008. Visit their main website at and topic-specific and read issues of their own e-newsletter at


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