Who has time for consensus?

When you hear the phrase ‘consensus decision making’ what comes to mind? 

Do you groan and think to yourself this will take too long, and never get anywhere?

Consensus decision making invokes images of long debates that never get anywhere or agreements that have been so watered down they’re virtually meaningless.  There’s also the argument that it removes personal accountability and leads to groupthink.

As Margaret Thatcher said: “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”


From my experience, consensus decision making has been given a bad rap – unnecessarily.

Decision making is a process.  Of course, it shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach.  Different situations require that you select a different decision making process.

For example, in a state of emergency you need a chain of command so it is crystal clear who is making decisions.  In these situations, it makes sense to have one person making the decision, as they need to be made rapidly.  That doesn’t mean that the person making the decision isn’t seeking advice, but there is no doubt who is in charge.

In other situations, where it is really important to secure sustained buy in for the decision, using a consensus model of decision making is useful.  It’s an incredibly powerful process for building engaged and connected teams and stakeholder groups.

The problem starts with the notion that consensus means that everyone agrees on everything.   It doesn’t.

What it means is that the decision taken is something that everyone can live with. This means there may be parts that you don’t necessarily like, but you’re not going to object to.

When I’m working with large groups using this process it’s important that everyone has the opportunity to be heard.  There are lots of creative ways this can be done.  Getting people up and moving is an important part of the process.  The group needs to own the process and be actively involved in it.

Through a process of idea generation, sorting and clarification it becomes clear where there is common ground and where there are differences.  The differences are welcomed, because this creates the opportunity to explore the idea from multiple angles.

On many occasions the differences can be based on interpretation or terminology, or it may go deeper and be ideologically or belief based.  Giving everyone the chance to be heard enables the group to navigate a way through the differences.

Of course, securing this type of agreement is much easier if there is ‘good will’ in the room and genuine intent to find a way to reach an agreement.  So, laying the groundwork for this process before the group gets into the detail is important.

Ultimately I find that when I use this process for people in the group it becomes not so much about winning the argument, but about finding the best solution.

So what decisions are you making and what process are you using?  Are you using the right process for the decisions you need to make?

Remember, change happens.  Make it work for you.

Article source: http://www.changemeridian.com.au/who-has-time-for-consensus/


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