So the answer is . . .

Consensus decision-making may be one of the most prevalent decision-making tools in organizations today.  Simply walk around and ask the denizens of cube farms and team spaces how they make decisions. My perception is that the increase in the prevalence of using consensus as a decision tool has paralleled with an increase in the use of Agile and teams as a significant tool to deliver value. Defining consensus decision-making is a critical first step in understanding how to harness the power of the technique.

Consensus decisions are the output of a process in which a team or group finds a solution that everyone can either actively support or live with. This type of decision making reinforces strong team behavioral norms by ensuring that everyone on the team has a seat at the table during the decision-making process.   The team integrates all points of view – both majority and minority – into the deliberation process.

The power of the technique stems from getting everyone in a group/team involved in making a decision. However, to generate those benefits there are a number of conditions that need to be met, such as having a process and wanting to compromise.  Groups without a central focus or goal will also have difficulty in consensus decision-making. Consensus decisions are not the only decision-making method, nor is consensus decision-making always the best approach for a team. Examples of where consensus decision-making is not the right answer include when a team is facing an immediate crisis or can’t meet the prerequisites for consensus decision-making. Then other techniques should be considered.

One of the reasons consensus decision-making has become popular is that this technique helps to avoid tyranny by the majority.  Teams can be dominated by a powerful individual or clique. Consensus decision-making provides a platform to expose minority views and emergent ideas. Minority and emergent views cannot be addressed unless they are heard.  Note: just hearing ideas and views outside of the core team view does not mean they will be addressed; the decision-making process must incorporate mechanisms to get to a decision that all can support or live with.

The process of getting to consensus often generates win-win approaches that would not be identified if everyone did not have a place at the table.  The process of generating a consensus requires getting buy-in from all involved parties, which forces decisions toward the center.  All parties give and take so that the team or organization can meet its objective or goals.  The need for a strong central objective or goal foreshadows problems for some teams.

Consensus decision-making is a popular decision-making approach leveraged by teams and groups.  Allowing all voices to participate in decision-making will yield higher buy-in and reduce the possibility of active or passive sabotage.  I recently observed a team in which the team lead announced a decision on a tool to rate and evaluate positions. The decision was announced as a consensus decision even though there was clearly dissension in the group. A true consensus requires that all parties can support or live with the decision; that was clearly not the case.  Whether the decision was right or wrong is not a discussion point; whether the decision reflected is.  At best, it was a consensus of only part of the team. The team struggled with the decision for several sprints before receiving a “take it or leave it “ultimatum.  A true consensus decision-making process may have concluded with the same decision but all parties would have committed to making it happen, that commitment is the power promised by the technique and why it is popular.

Consensus Decision Making Theme:

  1. Consensus Decision-Making ** Current **
  2. Prerequisites and Attributes for Consensus Decision-Making
  3. Process for Consensus Decision-Making
  4. Issues with Consensus Decision.-Making