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To build an operational and consensual definition that your group can live with, in their own words, and with their understanding, use the following method. Since narrative descriptions alone may fall short of the entire meaning, we also want to support the consensual definition with illustration and examples.

Use this robust method for consensual definitions of terms, phrases, or expressions with a group of meeting or workshop participants. Keep in mind that the standards expected below are demanding. They include five effective activities. Keep this tool in your hip pocket and use it whenever you encounter serious discord over the meaning of something. You may also need this tool when you manage open issues (ie, Parking Lot) and your participants do not agree or cannot remember what something meant.

Additionally, the analysis activity of brainstorming begins when the ideation energy begins to wane. An indicator that it may be time to transition to analysis could be a question raised about what a term means, or someone raising an argumentative point that something can or cannot satisfy a specified condition or requirement.

Session leaders are faced with groups and participants (who may be in violent agreement with each other) who need to develop consensual understanding about what a particular term, phrase, or expression means. The most underutilized tool in the sphere of facilitation is a robust definition tool. Therefore the first step frequently required to support effective analysis requires properly defining something.

Purpose of Consensual Definitions

To build a consensual definition of a term or phrase that the group can live with, in its own words, and with its own understanding. Since narrative descriptions alone may fall short, support your consensual definition with an illustration and examples.

Rationale Behind Consensual Definitions

How to Build a Consensual Definition Making It Easier to Plan and Decide

Consensual Definition Tool

This MG RUSH tool supports consensual understanding around terms and phrases. Use something more robust to develop rich definitions for complex ideas like processes. Hence, for an entire workshop(s) Activity Flows may be more useful.

Method to Build Consensual Definitions

When a term or phrase requires further definition or understanding, it may be best to compare to a dictionary definition(s). However, do not begin with dictionary definitions. Rather, offer them as stimulus for the group after drafting their own definition. The five additional activities include:

  1. First identify “WHAT THE TERM OR PHRASE IS NOT”.
  2. Next, compile a narrative sentence or paragraph that generally describes it. Compare later to a dictionary or other professional definitions and support.
  3. Then list the detailed bullets that capture the specific characteristics or specifications of the term or phrase as intended by the participants. For example, with a camera, we might detail requirements for the quantity of mega pixels, zoom range, etc.
  4. Obtain or build a picture of concrete items or create an illustration of the item if it is abstract or dynamic (eg, process flow).
  5. Provide at least two actual, real-life examples from the participants’ experience that vivify the term or phrase. For example, a utility bill can be defined, but it is helpful to show an actual invoice (eg, electricity for the period 15JAN20xx to 14FEB20xx).


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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  1. Facilitator: As the name implies, the role of the facilitator is to help make the process of reaching a consensus decision easier. Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda on time; ensuring the group adheres to the mutually agreed-upon mechanics of the consensus process; and, if necessary, suggesting alternate or additional discussion or decision-making techniques, such as go-arounds, break-out groups or role-playing.

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