Is Consensus Decision Making Really Necessary?

I don’t know about your organization, but it seems the word consensus gets thrown around a lot lately when team leaders are talking about team decision making. You’ve probably heard this before — “We need to get consensus on that.” The truth is that very few of the decisions in organizations involve requiring consensus. If that were the case, not much work would get done.

When most people talk about a decision being made by consensus, they think that means every team member is in 100% agreement. That is quite a misconception. Sometimes it’s hard to just get two people to agree on something. Can you even imagine trying to get 100% agreement for all decisions? (Have you ever had to make a decision about where a group of team members were headed for lunch? Yep, it’s a tough one!)

What is Consensus Decision Making?

In a team-based organization, consensus is an appropriate decision strategy. But only for the most important team decisions. And it’s critical that each team member understands the definition of consensus.

Consensus means that everyone in the group can live with and fully support the decision. It’s a win-win solution where every team member feels that their positions were heard and no one had to give in to any of their strongly held convictions or needs. It might not be their ideal decision, but it’s one they can move forward with to advance the team.

Consensus decision making is time and energy consuming. It’s really hard work and should be reserved for the most important decisions that require strong support from the team members that will implement the decision.

How Do You Decide When to Use Consensus?

Determining the appropriate time to use consensus decision making depends on the size of the team and the conditions under which the decision will be made. Consensus should be used when the decision:

  • Affects all members of the team.
  • Will have a long-term impact on the team’s performance.
  • Requires coordination among many team members.
  • Involves a critical work challenge requiring the full commitment of the team.

Think twice before saying, “We need to get consensus on that” and consider the implications of that statement on your team. Reserve consensus for the most critical decisions and you’ll make a lot faster progress. What do you think?

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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