You can’t make a consensus decision by yourself.

Consensus decision-making is occasionally viewed as a panacea; however, there are several potential shortcomings. Like most situations, knowing an issue is a major step to resolving the issue.

Conflict with Team Agenda

Two team, related problems occur frequently.  The first is that the team can develop an agenda that is at odds with the organization’s goals.  Agenda conflicts are most common where the central goal is weak or not well communicated.  

A second, team-related problem occurs when a team has formation or leadership issues.  Teams often have formation issues if they are very new or represent a dynamic grouping of people.  Leadership problems occur when the team does not have a leader or the leader is not good.  Both issues typically lead to weak or absent agendas, which make consensus decision-making impossible.

Hierarchy Issues

Problems affecting consensus decision-making occur when strong formal and informal hierarchies are in effect during decision making.  Hierarchies create scenarios in which a person or persons have more power and control than others.  In consensus decision-making, mismatches of power are a problem.  Consensus decision-making requires extra work to ensure minority views are voiced and evaluated without prejudice in groups where hierarchical power is a core feature.

Management Style Issues

Many leadership styles are not conducive for consensus decision-making.  For example, an Autocratic Leader, where followers are not incented to make decisions, will not seek a consensus before making a decision.  Democratic and participative leadership styles are far more conducive to consensus decision-making (see Impact of Leadership Types on Adopting and Staying Agile.

Consensus Decision-Making Doesn’t Fit All Decision Types 

Some types of decisions are better suited for consensus approaches. Consensus decisions are often used in scenarios where the issues are complex and the group potentially has minority opinions that need to factor into the decision. Consensus decisions are useful for aligning teams to actively support an implementation.  Decisions that require hard or unpopular decisions are less likely to be made using consensus due to the polarizing impact of the decision.  Once made, consensus decision-making can be used during the implementation of a hard or unpopular decision to generate involvement and buy-in.

Not Really Fast

Consensus decisions are often slower than leader directed decisions. This is a special form stating consensus is not useful for all types of decisions.  Generating a consensus decision whether to get off a subway car as the doors are closing will mean getting off at the next stop. The power of consensus is the diversity of input not the speed of the decision.

Missing Prerequisites

If the prerequisites are not met, decision paralysis can occur.  For example, without trust or a willingness to reach a consensus, it will be it will be very difficult for team members to actually come to consensus decisions.  Often times when a team is missing prerequisites an individual will or clique will decide for the entire team.

Consensus decision-making is a powerful tool, but it is not a tool for all occasions.  Team structure or the type decision that needs to be made will often shape the decision-making process needed.  As with most things in life, there is no one size fits all answer.

Consensus Decision Making Theme:

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