Consensus as a Decision-Making Strategy - dummies

Consensus as a Decision-Making Strategy

By Dawna Jones

Consensus is a group decision-making process in which the final outcome requires agreement by all parties involved. To gain consensus, you invite diverse perspectives so that the groups can explore the issue from different angles. Consensus adds value by building support and commitment for implementation of a decision and action plan. It is a chance to collectively examine and predict the consequences in the short and long term.

Effectively using the consensus model requires that all participants share a common picture of the direction and vision they’re working toward. It doesn’t mean that everyone sings exactly the same notes in unison or that everyone is fixated on a precise, one-way-only strategy for achieving the goal.

Dealing with differences of perspective and opinion

In an effective consensus-building model, differences of perspective are given air time; they’re not received as irritants or roadblocks but are viewed as offering value to the process.

Being aware of the thought processes and emotional undercurrents that occur within the group helps create a better consensus-building experience. Doing so lets the group identify and immediately address issues that may come up. Consider designating someone to keep an eye on dynamics. Consensus processes fall apart when differences of opinion fall into the camp of “I’m right,” which really means “they’re wrong.”

Serious reservations or concerns need to be presented so that they can be addressed. In fact, probing and sometimes difficult questions can reveal insights you need. Breakthrough decisions often come by listening to the person concerned about something no one has felt comfortable saying. Keep these points in mind:

  • Working environments or teams that value harmony above all else tend to pressure individuals to conform to what the majority feels is the best decision instead of actively pursuing the point of objection. Rather than pressuring group members to conform, explore the underlying issues and encourage team members to ask questions out of genuine curiosity. Such questions may uncover hidden issues and quite possibly valuable insights

  • If you are dealing with cynics, then remember that the value of cynicism is to add critical thinking at points where team members may be tempted to press on, assuming nothing will go wrong. If the group doesn’t include any cynics, then be sure to add a dash of cynicism as a necessary check. Doing so ensures that potential trouble is identified and addressed before moving on.

    But beware of too much cynicism, which can stall the forward progress of your decision-making and mire the conversation in negativity.

Making decisions that are acceptable for all

In consensus decision-making, participants should focus on making the decision in a way that is acceptable for all.

Consensus doesn’t work when the right to veto is allowed. In a traditional consensus process, veto is allowed, but giving veto power to any one person can twist the experience into a power game aimed at serving self rather than common interests, negating the whole value of a consensus process.

Devoting the right amount of time to making the decision

Getting a decision right in the first place can take time, yet if the process goes on too long, people lose interest, and you lose valuable momentum. To offset that risk, structure your time frames but allow for a window of flexibility. Your intuitive sense of timing can help you get the timing right.

Workplaces that value fast action more than sound decision-making tend to have higher tolerances for doing the work twice instead of thinking through the decisions in the first place. When you’re under pressure to decide, you may be tempted to take shortcuts, like bypassing the needed professional advice and or not pursing helpful input. Overlooking key data because you’re under pressure to take action can lead to mistakes and less-than-optimum decisions.