Six Principles for Consensus Decision Making

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By:Beth Flynn, Monday, March 17th, 2014

Always Think of Consensus as Win-Win, Not Compromise.  In a decision-making situation, win-win indicates the development of a solution that does not dilute any strong convictions or essential needs of individual group members.

Determine in Advance the Fallback Decision Option if Consensus Cannot Be Reached. Most decisions must be made by a deadline, and generating consensus does take time.  Therefore, do not impose unrealistic time limits that doom the consensus effort before it begins.

At Key Decision Points, Combat the Illusion of Consensus by Explicitly Testing for It.   The illusion of consensus is the most common trap to snare the unwary facilitate/leader.  The trap comes in two forms the silence trap and the hubbub trap.  The silence trap is when group members who are not fully committed to the course of action often hold back their comments because they assume that everyone else’s silence implies agreement or support, and they are reluctant to disrupt the “unity” of the group.  The hubbub trap is when the majority masks the silence of the other two people, and the manager, reinforced by the chorus of supports, declares that she has a solid consensus.

Develop Share Values Regarding Consensus.  In order to put the consensus decision-making process in proper perspective and enhance its effectiveness, all task-oriented groups, need to take some time to decide what consensus means to them and how consensus will operate within their group.  Consensus cannot be a win-win process unless all members agree on what it means and how it functions within their group.

Stamp Out the Declaration “I Can Live with It.”  Groups that routinely used and accepted the I-can-live-with-it pronouncement to signify support for a given proposal were observed to reach nominal consensus – consensus in name only. 

Use the Consensus Option at Key Decision Points.  Consensus should be used for major elements of a decision, not the many specifics (Kayser, 2011, p 99-111).

What are some leadership decisions you have made lately?  Which of these priniciples did you use?


From:  Kayser, T.A. (2011).  Building team power: how to unleash the collaborative genius of teams for increased engagement, productivity, and results. (2nd edition).  New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mon, 03/17/2014 - 2:52pm -- Beth Flynn

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