Consensus Decision-making

Consensus Decision-making….

Consensus decision-making is defined by Webster’s Dictionary and Wikipedia as a group decision process that seeks the consent (not necessarily the agreement) of participants and the resolution of objections to the decision. Consensus  is used to describe both the decision (e.g. “a consensus decision was made”) and the process of reaching a decision. Consensus is not the same as unanimity or solidarity but in SB&A’s experience, consensus does not preclude the possibility of achieving unanimity or solidarity.

There are many different interpretations of the word “consensus” and many different processes described as a consensus process. In fact there are so many differences that ironically, lack of agreement about the definition of consensus and the process for achieving it can in itself become an issue that precludes achieving consensus! However, it is SB&A’s belief that this “unnecessary complexity” of defining what is and is not consensus should not result in abandoning the consensus approach or the devaluing of the major benefits it can bring to decision-making and the ultimate success achieved in implementing the decisions.

SB&A’s definition of consensus decision-making is far broader than a process. SB&A believes consensus decision-making is a philosophy or a state of being… a way of thinking, being in relationship and working together. When the consensus process is simple, straighforward, applied fairly, respectfully and in response to the group members’ direction it fosters increased empathy, confidence and the ability to listen, understand different points of view, innovate, creatively problem-solve, embrace the risk-rewards of change and effectively lead in the implementation of the ultimate decision.

SB&A’s consensus decision-making process:

  • All group members agree to make consensus decisions as often as possible.
  • Further, the group agrees that if it finds that a particular consensus decision is too time consuming it can use a different process for that one decision (e.g 2/3 vote). The group understands the consequences of departing from consensus on the ultimate outcome of its entire process.
  • Consensus decisions mean that every person in the group agrees to allow the decision to be made and thus move forward. The decision requires a clear and active “yes” from everyone in order to move forward.
  • A “yes” response means the participant will fully support the decision or, at a minimum, will do nothing to undermine it or its success.  An abstention is considered the same as a “yes.”
  • A “no” response is given only if the participant feels he/she is prepared to stop the group from further considering the decision option or making the decision.
  • If a “no” response prohibits the group from resolving the overarching issue or project that caused it to form, the group will then decide how it will proceed.

Effective consensus decision-making requires dialogue, sometimes rigorous and respectful debate, time,thought and energy. In the initial stages, consensus decision-making may be a slower process than a win/lose voting process but with practice consensus decisions are typically as fast or faster. This is because the participants have come to fully understand one another’s interests and needs and have learned to generate solutions that accommodate everyone’s interests rather than just their own and to generate solutions that are far more creative. The benefits of working through the consensus process is that it typically results in decisions that have a greater chance of enduring, a greater sense of accomplishment by the group members, a greater sense of team and a greater commitment to seeing the decision succeed.

SB&A recommends that client groups operate by consensus. However, from the beginning, group’s members decide their own decision-making process and assume responsibility for the definition of success for their work outcomes.