Caution – Consensus decision making isn’t necessarily the way to go.
Recently I worked with a very large organisation which has a corporate policy that all decisions must be made by consensus.
That sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that consensus is defined (correctly) as everyone agreeing. That’s just not realistic.
The people I was working with told me that needing to make consensus decisions holds them back from making progress more than anything else. Sometimes they never make a decision and there are decisions still on the books from months ago which are being held up by one or two people who disagree.
I’ve seen a community organisation destroyed by consensus decision making because one or two people refused to agree on something that every other person agreed on. In the end the group folded and they formed a new group which used traditional majority decision making.
Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of groups which implemented what I call “pure” consensus decision making – 100% agreement. Most have had to alter their definition of consensus in order to make any decisions at all and progress. The definition I use is this: when a minimum of 80% of the group agrees, and the remainder can live with it.
Now the obvious question is what happens if the remainder cannot live with it? In that situation you need a fallback position. The fallback I have seen work is simply this: when a stalemate occurs and an appropriate time has passed, decisions which cannot be made by the 80% consensus model are decided by an 80% majority. This works well and allows groups to move forward.
Consensus works really well ….. until it doesn’t.