The ⅓ + 1 Rule: The Key to Consensus

Everybody out, the building is on fire!

I am sure it has happened to us all at some stage in our lives! The smoke, fire or security alarm goes off in a building, and as logical, well rounded, mindful adults, with a focus on being responsible, we sit and look around us to try and understand if;

  1. The alarm is real
  2. What everybody else is doing

How would we react if somebody was simply running through the building shouting “FIRE” would we act differently?

The consensus is not created by the first person to run through shouting, but we would follow the first person to react to the person shouting fire!

Creating consensus in business is a task that faces us all every day in both our professional and our personal life.

It is, in the long term, better to have all employees buy into a journey that has been agreed, rather than enforced, and priorities, interdependencies, and strategies aligned and understood.

Certain aspects need to be taken as a given.

For example, if you shout “FIRE” it must be real, or you will only get away with this technique once!




All the above is required for any organisation or process to work.

Today, I want to share with you a practical, simple, and effective technique for identifying key business priorities and finding solutions, while creating consensus from your team, that does not require you to shout “FIRE” and hope that someone starts the stampede for you.

It’s called “The ⅓ + 1 Rule”

This technique has many applications. We often use it in the context of improving customer service by identifying “coffee stains” in client organizations as a demonstration on how to use it. But, it can be applied to many areas of the business, used in project teams, department teams, within the executive team, etc.

First, of course, you need to identify what challenges your team is working to overcome. For the sake of this example, I’m going to stick with “coffee stains,” or customer service, as the focus of our attention.

Let’s take the ⅓ + 1 Rule step-by-step.

Step 1: “Green Light Thinking”

First, give your team the opportunity to take two to five minutes to sit down quietly and write what they think are your company’s or department’s “coffee stains.” It is important that you let everyone write down their own ideas privately. Because if you were to do it all at once as a group, some people will speak up with their ideas, while others will not feel as comfortable speaking about it in front of the group for a number of reasons. You want the ideas and perspectives of everyone in the group in order to create consensus, but also, because each person may have their own unique perspective on an issue as they have to deal with it in the context of their particular job.

Step 2: Create a List

Go around the room and have everyone list what they wrote, writing their answers on a whiteboard, flip chart, or somewhere that everyone involved can see the list. Be sure to number each item as you go. Duplicate ideas are to be expected, and that is fine. Simply acknowledge the contribution and note that it goes with a previous list item, though it may be worded slightly differently. Make sure the group agrees that it is, in fact, the same issue.

Step 3: Priorities and Democracy

The next step in the ⅓ + 1 Rule process is to rank the ideas on the list as priorities. The way the voting works is this: take the number of items that you have on your list, divide it by 3, and then add 1.

For example, if I have 15 items on my “coffee stains” list the number of votes that each person gets is 6. (15 ÷ 3 + 1 = 6.)

So, give everyone two minutes to take a look at the list you have created together and write down their votes for what they think are the top six priorities (in this example, “coffee stains”).

Step 4: Tally the Votes

Finally, go down the list that your group have created together and have everyone show their votes by raising their hands. Write the number of votes that each list item as received. You will typically end up with one, maybe two, top issues.

This process provides you with a prioritized list of items that, as you solve the issues, your business results will improve. Your team will be operating more efficiently, working together toward a common purpose. Your team will be more committed to the execution of solving the issue because they were greatly involved in the process of identifying it and coming up with solutions.


The ⅓ + 1 Rule is a practical tool that you can use over and over again with your teams to create consensus and get buy-in. It’s very easy to frame most challenges by asking, “In what ways can we…” You fill in the blank. And then get your team to launch into “green light thinking."