Consensus Decision Making
Excerpted from _Group Leadership and Decision Making: Workbook_,
Copyright 1981 by William Gellermann. All rights reserved. [reprinted
Decisions cannot always meet with everyone's complete agreement, but
many decisions can be made _acceptable_ so that everyone is at least
willing to go along. This means that no one has any disagreement that they
consider important. A decision that is acceptable to every is called a
Some key guidelines for consensus decision making are:
Acting according to consensus guidelines enables a group to take advantage
of all group members' ideas. By combining their ideas, people can often
create a higher-quality decision than a vote decision or a decision by a
single individual. Further, consensus decisions can be better than vote
decisions because voting can actively undermine the decision. People are
more likely to implement decisions they accept, and consensus makes
acceptance more likely.
- Approach the decision on the basis of logic and reason.
- Listen to other people's ideas and understand their reasoning.
- Describe your reasoning briefly so other people can understand you.
Avoid arguing for your own judgments and trying to make other people
change their minds to agree with you. (They can change their own minds.)
- Avoid changing your mind only to reach agreement and avoid conflict.
Do not "go along" with decisions until you have resolved
disagreements you consider important.
- View differences of opinion as helpful rather than harmful.
- Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote.
Often, other kinds of decision (such as people deciding alone, managers
deciding, voting) are better than consensus, but when consensus is likely to
be most effective, people need to know how to reach it.
In summary, consensus decisions can be better than other kinds because
they enable groups to achieve higher-quality decisions (when pooling
knowledge is desirable) and higher commitment to action (when acceptance
of the decision is necessary for effective implementation). However,
consensus is not always the best way to make a decision.
Leadership And Group Decision Making
CONTROL <-------------DIALOGUE-------------> SELF-DIRECTION
Leader Leader and group discuss and then... Group
Leader Both Group
decides decide decides
See below for kinds of group decision that can be used in
making any of these group decisions.
Kinds of Group Decision
Some Difficulties with Consensus
- Unanimous agreement: Everyone agrees with the decision.
- Pure consensus: Everyone accepts the decision even though they all may not
completely agree; they are all willing to go along.
- Working consensus: The decision is accepted by the people whose
cooperation is necessarty to make it work
- Majority decision: More than half agree or are willing to accept the
Consensus and "groupthink" are different. Groupthink occurs when everyone
agrees with a decision, but some people are just going along because they
feel obligated to reach an agreement and avoid conflict. Thus although there
appears to be a consensus, some people have not resolved disagreements
they consider important. In consensus, all agree with the decision and all
important disagreements are resolved.
- People who do not actively try to find a decision that is acceptable to
everyone (all-win) can dominate a group's dicussion by trying to make
everyone else go along with them (win-lose).
- A group can coerce or manipulate individuals into saying they accept a
decision, even when they don't. That is groupthink, not true consensus.
- People sometimes expect to use consensus even when leader decision,
voting, or some other method would be better.