Consensus in strategy workshops: an exploratory study

Heck, Heiner (2018) Consensus in strategy workshops: an exploratory study. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Strategy workshops are a commonly used practice in modern organisations to support strategic decision making or to define implementation measures. However, despite their widespread use in practice, academic research on strategy workshops has been very limited. There have been calls among scholars to generate a deeper understanding of workshop processes. To date no research has focused on the interpersonal dimensions of strategy workshops, their relevance and the practices that shape them. This is specifically significant for strategic consensus and its role in strategy workshops, which has been overlooked by studies, despite acknowledgements of its significance for the strategy process. It is therefore the objective of this study to determine the relevance of consensus in a strategy workshop, to develop an understanding how and through which context factors consensus is established and to derive guidelines towards establishing and using consensus in these workshops.

This qualitative study takes a Strategy-as-Practice perspective. Building upon the existing research gap, this study aims to identify and understand how consensus among participants develops in a strategy workshop and how this contributes to strategizing. The research focuses on the research questions: (a) how does consensus evolve in strategy workshops; (b) how is consensus experienced by participants; and (c) which factors influence consensus building in a strategy workshop. Through these research questions the study addresses the objectives of establishing the relevance of consensus for strategizing, how consensus building takes place in a strategy workshop context and which factors and practices can influence the formation of consensus and thus also of strategies.

The data collection consisted of two phases. It has been conducted inductively in a single company case study approach in a German company. The related data was gathered through observations of two strategy workshops and in 16 interviews with professional experts from the researched organisation.

From the findings it can be derived that consensus evolves non-linearly through iterative discussions by the workshop participants. Consensus building starts with a
common agreement on the workshop goal and is then shaped by open interactions of the participants and guided by the facilitator. The study found that consensus is perceived as a critical pre-condition for the successful implementation of a strategy. Consensus creates commitment of stakeholders and establishes a momentum that is both used for decision making in a workshop as well as implementation in the aftermath. Further, consensus allows managers to use strategy workshops as sources of justification referenced during the implementation phase.

As influencing context factors, consensus requires a clear problem and context scope before or at the start of a workshop. The structuring by the facilitator and the participants’ setup are critical for the process of consensus building.

This study contributes to existing theory in the field of Strategy-as-Practice by expanding the definition of consensus in two dimensions. These are an extension of the definition towards a time-related dimension of consensus concerning its formation, as well as proposing a differentiation between true and false consensus, which adds a new dimension to the concept of consensus in strategizing Further, this research provides qualitative evidence of context factors that influence consensus building, as well as bridging the gap between theory and practice.

This research contributes to practice by outlining the importance of workshop elements for consensus building in strategy workshops with a self-developed exploratory framework as guidance for practitioners. Further, it provides insights into the role of consensus for strategizing in strategy workshops.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: consensus building, strategic consensus, strategy workshops, Strategy-as-Practice
Subjects: N100 Business studies
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Northumbria Law School
University Services > Graduate School > Professional Doctorate
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Business Administration
Depositing User: Ay Okpokam
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2020 16:20
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 16:30

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