communication during change The year I had Mrs. Matson for homeroom is the year I’ll never forget. As a class we needed to make a decision and this was my first blush with consensus decision making.

Actually, it was a year of a lot of firsts.  Most important, it was a year I felt I had a “say” with decisions.

Take for instance that long-drawn-out battle naming the class turtle.    I so desperately wanted to name him Oscar, but 8 other ten-year-olds had ideas of their own.  And none of us wanted to back down.

Mrs. Mattson didn’t take this lightly (though I could imagine how insignificant this can seem to a grown-up).  She took the pains to have everyone explain why they wanted such and such a name (and at one point, had to quell a brewing fistfight over it!).

But such are ten-year olds.

Surprisingly, a scenario such as this isn’t uncommon in many organizations.  Decision making is hardly black and white.  Which is why a good number of vibrant organizations opt for consensus decision making. 

What is Consensus Decision Making?

Consensus decision making is a dynamic way of reaching an agreement among members of a group.  Instead of conducting polls and having the majority get their way, a group is formed and assigned to find a solution that everyone will actively support.

… or at least live with.

The idea behind a consensus is not for everyone to agree. Instead, the goal is to have nobody vehemently oppose.

In an environment where many of us have little control over our lives (decisions being made for us by our superiors, parents, persons of authority, politicians…), consensus decision making gives a little of that power back.  It shortens the distances between hierarchies and replaces it with “shared” power.

In effect, it gives us not just independence, but interdependence as well.  Team members learn to value cooperation, and respect for everyone’s opinions and needs.

Pros of Consensus Decision Making

  • Shared Power – Consensus decision making allows members to take collective control over decisions that affect them. Done right, it’s a respectful dialogue between and among equals.  From an individual’s point of view, it means having control over issues that affect you WITHOUT having unjustified control over everyone else.  Simply put, it means working WITH each other instead of AGAINST each other.
  • Better DecisionsConsensus decision making is  great strategy for “win-win” resolutions that everyone will accept.  It’s not a compromise.  And neither is it unanimity.  Rather, it takes into consideration everyone’s best ideas and major concerns.  More often than not, teams arrive at creative solutions (that they wouldn’t have thought of in the first place).
  • Minority Needs Are MetAs a general rule, anyone can block a proposal by not giving their consent.  It’s a powerful tool that should never be taken lightly only because it also takes away others’ freedom to do what they want.   But it’s a useful device because it acts as a safety net for those situations where such course of action would seriously injure a group.  Not too many teams are fond of “blocking”.  But it’s a safety measure to ensure that minority views are heard.

Cons of Consensus Decision Making

Consensus Decision Making is the best way to go… or is it? While consensus decision making makes team members feel part of the solution, not everyone is a fan.


  • Diffusion of Responsibility – True, everyone feels “part” of the solution. But the reverse could also be true.  If everyone is responsible for a decision, then no one is.  Group decisions make it all too easy for members to deny personal responsibility.  It makes blaming others easier, as well.
  • Groupthink – Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that happens when, in the desire to conform (or the refusal to rock the boat), the group ends up making an irrational (or even dysfunctional) decision! Group members reach a consensus decision without a critical evaluation of other perspectives. 
  • Decreased Efficiency ­ – Group decisions can take time simply because of the discussion and coordination required. Its all too easy to get stuck in trivial matters. 


Consensus Decision Making, Yay or Nay?

Despite the perils, the gains to be had from this type of decision making cannot be ignored. To maximize the benefits of a consensus decision making process, group leaders and managers must take note of these important steps:

  1. Make your GOALS, EXPECTATIONS, and RESPONSIBILITIES CLEAR – A clear statement of the issue to be resolved will make it easier to unify the group. By setting expectations, team members are in the know when it comes to parameters and limits (such as deadlines).  Last but not least, when roles are clear, people are accountable and they know that they need to take responsibility.
  1. CREATE a HEALTHY WORK ENVIRONMENT – Once goals, expectations, and responsibilities are made clear, foster a working environment that allows open and honest communication. Don’t shoot the harbinger of bad news. Instead, establish group norms on how members must interact to avoid heated confrontations.
  1. STEP BACK – Let the team perform. Once the setting for making decisions is established, allow the group to make its decisions.  A manager now wears the mediator hat.  She helps with managing interpersonal relationships or if alternatives need to be clarified.

Reaching a conclusion that everyone supports is an excellent strategy for moving forward.  With consensus decision making, we do away with outvoting minorities. Everyone is heard. Creative, real solutions are made.

And what became of our pet turtle?   Mrs. Mattson assigned quiet ol’ me as committee head.   I received names ranging from the ninja turtles to some Nordic god … But after much deliberation (and some interesting story-telling and banter), we all agreed on the perfect name … Mr. Turtle.

Harness your organization’s consensus decision making prowess with these these helpful links.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

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