ConsensusHere’s an activity I’ve used to help individuals and groups clarify their purpose or mission. Basically, participants define a term (a single sentence works best) and then work together in progressively larger groups to reach consensus on their definition, which again should be a single sentence. For example, they might answer the question “Why does this group exist?” or “What is our goal as a team?” and then work through the process to reach consensus as a whole group.

With a group of 16, you’d start by having individuals work on their own, then forming pairs to reach consensus, followed by combining two pairs to form groups of 4, then groups of 8, and finally having the two groups of 8 reach consensus in the full group.

It’s worked well with a number of groups, with some caveats:

  • It’s primarily a “thinking” type of activity, and as such might not be energizing for all participants.
  • It’s best suited to an intact work unit, or members of the same organization who have a similar focus. Not so good with a group who wouldn’t have a common purpose to start with.
  • It can take a while to complete. I’d suggest it’s less useful as an icebreaker/energizer. It is, though, something to build on, so it probably wouldn’t make sense to do it at the end of a session, or right after lunch when energy levels are down.
  • Participants may perceive this as a competitive activity, particularly when the final two groups combine. You may want to emphasize the collaborative nature of the task.
  • Participants may see the final result as being “watered down” from their original and small group definitions. Consider exploring why this is so with the group. Is it a norm within the organization, was there a lack of investment in the outcome (and why?), how could this be overcome, etc? It’s important to pick a term that will have some meaning for the group – something they can commit to and use. You really want to come out of this with an outcome that participants value, so the term you select should be important to them. You also want support higher up in the organization if participants are going to move forward with this as a basis for their work.
  • Not all groups will be the exact size you need to double group sizes in each iteration. Be sure to do the math in advance to move from individuals to the final full group. For example with a group of 12, your progression might be 1>3>6>12.
  • Along with the task, the process might be meaningful to explore, in terms of group dynamics and how groups react when new members join. What helped/hindered them in achieving their task?

I’d love to say this was my design, but it’s not. It’s based on an activity from the 1977 University Associates annual (they eventually became Pfeiffer & Co.) If you use it you should include a credit to them.