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Arriving at Consensus – Peaceful Productivity


Imagine twenty passionate and dedicated nurses from CVAA, Canadian Vascular Access Association, in a conference room for one beautiful weekend in Ottawa.

Their mission? To come to group consensus on hundreds of clinical best practice guidelines that they had drafted in pairs, to be applied to healthcare, Canada-wide.

Weeks before, when I was approached to help the group, I had asked the leader, “Why are you engaging a facilitator for your workshop?” The answer was typical, “There are some powerful personalities with strong opinions so we expect there could be some heated discussions”. Wonderful! Passion … caring … dedication … let’s do it, let’s create peaceful productivity!

Setting up the workshop for success involved planning with the leadership team on two aspects: (1) Tangible: clearly articulate attainable objectives and design processes to achieve them; and (2) Intangible: create an environment where participants feel safe to speak their mind and are open to hear and understand each other’s perspectives.

Starting with objectives, the common ground on which to build peace, I asked the leaders, “What does consensus mean to you?” They responded, “Maybe 75%?” I asked, “What about the other 25%? What will happen in implementation if ¼ of your group don’t agree with a particular guideline?”

I shared my definition of consensus: Everyone can live with it and will support it outside the room.

They were incredulous, “Impossible! How?”

We decided to use green, yellow and red cards that participants held up after the reading of every guideline. I explained that red cards are gifts: “There is something that needs to be changed or a question I need to ask before I can support it”.

When a red card appeared, it was an opportunity to open everyone’s mind to see a little broader. I asked, “What gift do you have for us?” Often it was something simple that only one person saw, or a situation unknown to the rest of the room, that required a change.

I then asked for another poll, until all the cards were either green, “perfect”, or yellow, “I can live with it and will support it outside this room”, group consensus. There were some guidelines that were a little more complex or challenging and we persisted through the process, systematically creating consensus while maintaining an environment of harmony and peace.

What about the intangibles? Creating a safe, peaceful working environment started with clear communications about the objectives and agenda. As participants arrived, they saw a room set up in five round tables of four, instead of a board room table. After introductions, the group co-created Rules of Engagement, which they embraced using the consensus cards. Their rules included “seek to understand”, a cornerstone to peaceful productivity.

By the end of the weekend, they had achieved consensus on guidelines with peace and harmony, more than they expected. They learned valuable processes and developed a level of trust and understanding that allowed them to continue their work via teleconference, an idea that they had previously found too difficult to imagine possible.

These special nurses continued to volunteer their time to achieve group consensus on the remaining guidelines, in the peaceful and productive atmosphere that was created that first weekend in Ottawa.


By: Cille Harris, retired engineer, Out Living the Dream with her husband Rob. (

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