Consensus – A Definition
“Not Something I Would Die For but Something I Can Live With”
Note: This discussion is for Basketball type team situations primarily/only.
Football and Baseball do not need nor do they naturally lend themselves to the effective use of consensus.
I am often asked by leaders, “What is consensus, exactly and how do you get it and how do you know that have gotten it”?
Let’s spend a few minutes on those questions.
Consensus Decision Making
1. Consensus ensures that a decision is not reached until each group member can commit to the decision as his or her own.
2. It equalizes the distribution of power in the group, because every member’s concerns must be addressed and every member’s consent is required to reach a decision.
3. Making a decision by consensus can take more time than other methods, but because people are then internally committed to the decision, it will usually take less time to implement effectively.
4. Consensus also implies the leader has the responsibility of giving them the information that will enable them to make an informed choice.
Operational Definition of Consensus
- All participants contribute, encourage the expression of varied opinions, and view differences as a strength rather than a hindrance.
- Everyone understands the issue and is able to paraphrase it.
- Consensus does not mean that the decision gives everyone his or her choice; rather, it means that members sufficiently favor the decision that no one sabotages it or tries to block carrying it out.
- All share in the final decision; if consensus is not reached, the discussion is automatically recycled to bring more information to bear.
- Consensus does not represent perfect agreement, but rather a blend of, and reduced range of, perspectives on which all the members are able to reach.
The Types of Consensus Decision Making
As a decision-making technique, consensus decision-making aims to be:
As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making technique.
The consensus technique should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.
Participants in an effective consensus technique should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than opt to pursue a majority opinion, potentially to the detriment of a minority.
All members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the technique.
All members have the opportunity to present, amend and veto or “block” proposals.
An effective consensus decision-making body strives to emphasize common agreement over differences and reach effective decisions using compromise and other techniques to avoid or resolve mutually-exclusive positions within the group.
6. Most Logical:
This happens when a solution appears to be impossible to execute because of the lack of support and cooperation.
Consensus: What, When, Why
Consensus means that members are sufficiently in favor of a decision that no one will become an obstacle to carrying it out.
Clarify consensus when you sense that the team needs to agree on a specific decision or plan of action so that it can move forward.
3. Why is it so Effective
Team members’ support and ownership of ideas is necessary for them to be implemented. Clarifying consensus helps guide team members toward creating that support and ownership.
Guidelines for Moving Toward Consensus: What to Do
DO present your position logically and provide information to support it.
DO consider other positions carefully before you press your point.
DO acknowledge other positions that have objective and logical bases.
DO explore reasons for differences of opinion.
DO look at alternatives.
DO distinguish between objective data and gut-level feelings about an issue.
DO poll the group often
DO accept “Pass” as a response, but remind members that unless they take a position their views will not be reflected in the team decision.
Guidelines for Moving Toward Consensus: What Not to Do
DON’T argue for your position without any justification.
DON’T argue automatically for your own personal priorities.
DON’T change your mind just to avoid conflict.
DON’T assume that stalemate reflects a win-lose situation.
Consensus: “Not Something Would Die For, But Something I Can Live With”
It does not mean that you get exactly what you want.
It means that every team member listens to others and tries to formulate a proposal that combines many people’s ideas and is agreeable to all.
Criticisms of Consensus
Critics of consensus decision-making often observe that the technique, while potentially effective for small groups of motivated or trained individuals with a sufficiently high degree of affinity, has a number of possible shortcomings, notably
1. Susceptibility to Disruption
Giving the right to block proposals to all group members may result in the group becoming hostage to an inflexible minority or individual.
Furthermore, “opposing such obstructive behavior [can be] construed as an attack on freedom of speech and in turn [harden] resolve on the part of the individual to defend his or her position.”
As a result, consensus decision-making has the potential to reward the least accommodating group members while punishing the most accommodating.
Perservation of the Status quo
In decision-making bodies that use formal consensus, the ability of individuals or small minorities to block agreement gives an enormous advantage to anyone who supports the existing state of affairs.
This can mean that a specific state of affairs can continue to exist in an organization long after a majority of members would like it to change.
Consensus decision-making is susceptible to all forms of group-think.
The most dramatic is the Abilene Paradox.
In the Abilene paradox, a group can unanimously agree on a course of action that no individual member of the group desires because no one individual is willing to go against the perceived will of the decision-making body.
4. Time Consuming
Since consensus decision-making focuses on discussion and seeks the input of all participants, it can be a time-consuming technique.
This is a potential liability in situations where decisions need to be made speedily or where it is not possible to canvass the opinions of all delegates in a reasonable period of time.
Additionally, the time commitment required to engage in the consensus decision-making technique can sometimes act as a barrier to participation for individuals unable or unwilling to make the commitment.
However, once a decision has been reached it can be acted on more quickly than a decision handed down.
American businessmen complained that in negotiations with a Japanese company, they had to discuss the idea with everyone even the janitor.
Yet once a decision was made the Americans found the Japanese were able to act much quicker because everyone was on board, while the Americans had to struggle with internal opposition.
So there you have it; consensus, what it is; what it isn’t and how to get it.
I trust this clarification on consensus will help both you and your team(s).
For more on this topic, we recommend the following
How to Build High Performing Teams
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