How Consensus Decision-Making Creates Shared Direction in a Team

In a previous post I called attention to “consent” as the root of “consensus” (as well as the basis for participation in any group).

What some people love and others hate about the process of consensus decision-making is that it requires participants to seek every group member’s sincere consent to move forward.

In fact, my definition of consensus is 100% agreement to move forward together.

So, why is consensus important?

  1. I measure team building by energy and direction. Without consensus, a group has no shared direction. Without consensus, people literally work at cross-purposes (and cancel out each other’s efforts) instead of amplifying each other’s efforts.
  2. When groups pursue a direction decided by majority or authority, those who dissent (either vocally or silently) display low energy. They lose their commitment.
  3. Remember the effect of low commitment on teams: the principle of the least-invested co-worker guarantees that when low commitment is present, it will always be more infectious than high commitment. The majority may “win” but the “losers” drain needed energy away from the “win.”

So, the real value of consensus decision-making is that it creates shared direction and high energy in a team. And isn’t that what we join groups to get?

5-Minute Practice Tip

To start becoming an expert consensus-builder, create a consensus continuum (in your head or on paper) similar to the one below. Then, when you’re in a group — any group — and attempting to decide a direction, when someone proposes a solution, immediately take a quick poll of each individual in the group.

Ask each person to rank his/her position as:

  1. Unqualified: Yes. Move forward.
  2. Perfectly acceptable. Move forward.
  3. I can live with the decision of the group. Move forward.
  4. I trust the group and will not block this decision but need to register my disagreement. Move forward.
  5. I feel no sense of unity as a group and think more work is needed before deciding. Stay put.
  6. I do not agree and feel the need to stand in the way of adopting this decision. Stay put.

The point of this practice is warm inclusion of dissenters. Inclusion gives dissenters a louder voice, instead of quelling them. The normal — and harmful — group dynamic is for the majority to beat-up the minority until they withdraw, which the majority then defines as consent.

To activate more team building when there’s a difference of opinion on a team, silence the majority and ask dissenters, “How can we change this proposal so it works for you?” Then listen.

Often dissenters solve their own “opposition” simply by being heard.

Start your practice on less-than-critical decisions. The key to consensus-building is steering away from “right versus wrong” arguments. (Use “Works for me,” or “Doesn’t work for me,” instead.)

And, above all, keep asking the group, “What could move us forward together?”

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Leadership on 09/20/2011 08:16 pm
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