Published: 15/01/2004, Volume II4, No. 5888 Page 35

Leading a group towards a consensus not only requires a good grasp of the topic, but also a comprehensive understanding of the group's dynamics, and the interactions between individual members.

Chairs should:

Ensure a shared vision: make sure everyone knows and understands the overall vision.

Understand underlying issues: political pressures are important because they are powerful influences that are often not openly admitted to.

Be aware of misaligned understanding: a disagreement over a particular issue is often due to different interpretations of the underlying framework.

Simplify complex issues: split the issue into constituent elements and lead the group in addressing each in turn.

Be aware of the third way: there are many possible solutions, many of which can be ignored - often including the best one.

Develop social context: get members with opposing views out of the meeting room to talk socially about their interests.

Make the loser feel good: If there has to be a majority decision, and someone is the loser, it is important to acknowledge publicly the importance of their point of view.

Give people time: ensure everyone gets the chance to express their views.

Be patient: it is easy to get frustrated over the time it can take to build consensus.

Paul Ashford is head of planning, facilities and IT, Welsh Blood Service.