Consensus is but one of six types of decision making. It is a worthy goal WHEN you have the time and ability to reach true consensus where each member can bring perspective, creativity and insights not available or understood by an individual acting alone. This, along with other benefits, make consensus a default choice for many groups and teams. However, too many organizations choose it without also considering what true consensus is as well as the risks of a consensus being the typical choice.
Some of the downsides of consensus decision making include the following:
- Consensus decisions take time, sometimes more than a group will allow.
- Often group consensus involves compromise. If there are too many compromises, that can create a whole new set of problems. There are many examples of this in Congressional decisions (United States.)
- Sometimes groupthink will sabotage a decision. When reaching consensus is made the goal over achieving a quality decision, individuals may be less likely to speak up and challenge the majority opinion. This groupthink, where the group fails to listen to or make space for alternative viewpoints, can easily result in suboptimal decisions.
- A “tyranny of the agenda” occurs when enough time isn’t allowed to discuss the decision. This can also breed resentment if stakeholders affected by the decision are not involved. Some in the group may go along with it just to move on to other topics, and may bring up the topic again later. They may or may not bring up underlying issues that were not aired when making the original decision. This can result in more lost time than airing the issues fully in the first place ensuring all viewpoints have been heard.
The definition of a solid consensus decision is when group members have enough of a full discussion to arrive at a position that everyone agrees to support, including noting any reservations, such as seeking support for, “I can agree and fully support this decision, even if it is not my top choice.” Agreeing with a decision under protest, without such agreement isn’t really consensus. It leaves winners and losers in its wake. How big the win and loss is, by degrees, matters.
There are other nuances for well-made consensus decisions as well as other choices as described below in the downloadable handout (preview on desktop or tablet). If you have an informal or formal leadership role in a group, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the six modes of decision making. Consider which decisions you’ve experienced that didn’t last, as well as those that did and why.
There are other aspects of decision making that affect outcomes including these two examples below, for which I’ve included resources below:
1) The type of leadership in a team: from tightly controlled or regimented, to loose and casual, as described on this leadership style continuum here and pictured below.
2) The type of team, group or pseudo-team that is making the decision: A handout on the six characteristics differentiating these is is below.
These resources will give you options beyond the seemingly easy, but not really easy choice of consensus decision making. Having greater insight into quality decision making helps groups and teams develop excellence in working together, which, if not always the most comfortable way of doing things, is, in the long run, much more satisfying and above all, much more productive.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Photo 1 credit: Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com, Photo 2 credit: Photo by Rahul Sapra on Pexels.com, Photo 3 credit listed above.
A solid decision can be described as Right Action, when the… Right people are doing the Right things in the Right way at the Right time for the Right reasons in the Right space for the Right results. For more information about Right Action, see Deb’s coaching page. Contact Deb here if your organization is interested in developing its organization strength further.