Traditional group decision-making practices are either mostly based on simple majority or let participants vote on varied proposals and select the ones which gain maximum number of ayes. But this is quite a non-collaborative method as it creates a win-lose proposition and favours formation of factions, especially for contentious issues.
Consensus decision making is a step ahead with the primary objective of achieving agreement in toto, i.e. full agreement from all the members.
This is based on the fact that everyone comes to the decision making process with a different, but equally valid perspective on the truth. Therefore, each person is entitled to speak, be heard and participate fully in shaping the final decision. This becomes feasible when the group first resolves – or at least mitigates - even the most minor of objections. Only after addressing the concerns of all the members can the entire group come to an agreement.
The process:Generally, the facilitator frames a topic and the deliberation process is thrown open to the whole group. All members participate equally by evaluating different ideas, identifying and addressing underlying concerns and only then develop proposals by collaboratively synthesising the proposed ideas or solutions.
Members are encouraged to articulate differences or dissent and then resolve the disagreement through deep discussion till they reach a mutually satisfactory solution. This ensures that individual voices are heard and valued with no ideas or input ever getting lost.
As everyone is committed to the goal of generating complete agreement, they strive to cooperatively search for the best solution.
Once the requisite modifications and adjustments are made, the facilitator calls for consensus. Members use agreed signals like thumb signs or coloured cards to indicate their assent or otherwise.
A dissenting participant can choose to ‘declare reservations' or show ‘non-support' where he raises his concerns while still going along and allowing the proposal to pass. Or, he can ‘stand aside' where he deems that the decision is wrong and cannot go along with it, but still does not wish to stop others from the same.
Veto:An extreme option available is the veto power to entirely block the consensus. It is used for principled objections and immediately stops the proposal from moving forward. This requires proper guidelines so as to prevent misuse of this responsible prerogative. Like: limiting it to fundamental issues that violate the group mission or can cause disastrous results.
The team member can also be required to fully participate in the discussion prior to blocking.
Another clause can necessitate the blocker to clearly explain the reasons for blocking, provide practical alternatives and work with the team to find a better solution. The group will first make concerted attempts to mitigate the concerns and accommodate all possible views till they reach unanimous consent. If there still seems to be a dead-end, the proposal is finally withdrawn.
Here, it should be noted that consensus does not mean that every member deems the decision as their first preference or the best choice. What it does signify is that everyone has understood the matter, shared information, aired their concerns and agree that they can live with the decision while extending their support. They also concur that nobody will talk against the decision outside the group.
The aim:Different groups may practice different decision rules regarding how much agreement is necessary to finalise a decision, when appropriate. They can aim for near unanimous consent in place of a completely unanimous one. Yet, the process for reaching the decision is entirely consensus-based.
Therefore, consensus decision making is a truly democratic process as it uses input and ideas of everyone in the final decision, thus reflecting the integrated will of the whole group. Members always place the team's needs above their own and do not compete for personal preferences. There is no coercion, trade-off or compromise anywhere as the group successfully synthesises diverse elements together. This leads to both better decisions and better implementation as members strive to reach the best decision and as they share ownership are more committed and supportive of the same. It also improves group relationship dynamics with better connections, trust and cohesion all around.
Yet, it should be noted that consensus decision making needs experienced participants who can cooperatively work together. It proves effective for smaller groups with motivated or trained individuals having sufficient affinity towards each other. Only then can all group members successfully contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets all the members' concerns as much as possible!