Deborah Mackin

Article Summary:

Understanding consensus decision making for teams.

Consensus Decision Making

The concept of consensus decision making was developed by Quakers. The assumption behind consensus is that everyone comes to the process with a different, but equally valid, perspective on the truth. By agreeing to work toward consensus, the team proposes decisions that will gain the agreement and support of all team members. The rules for consensus are as follows:

Everyone must feel like they have had a chance to be heard. A good facilitator will “scoop” people into the discussion so all opinions can be voiced.

Everyone must agree that they can “live with” the decision. It may not be your choice, or the best choice, but it’s a decision everyone can support.

Everyone must agree that they will not talk against the decision outside the team.

Everyone uses an agreed upon signal to indicate consensus. In most teams we use thumbs up to mean consensus, thumbs sideways when needing more discussion, and thumbs down when blocking the decision.

All team members have the prerogative of blocking a decision. Unlike voting, which only seeks the majority, a consensus block stops the decision from moving forward. The rules for blocking include:

The team member must fully participate in the discussion prior to blocking.

The team member must consider the team’s needs in addition to his/her own.

The team member must clearly explain the reasons for blocking and offer a compromise, if possible, for what he/she can live with.

When a team is trying to reach consensus, the meeting facilitator will ask a team member to submit a proposal. The facilitator then asks if there are any concerns with the proposal. The team works together to try to mitigate the concerns, and then the facilitator calls for consensus. At that point, team members use their thumbs to register their position on the proposal. If there are sideways or down thumbs, the team must continue to discuss the proposal or entertain a new proposal.

Deborah Mackin is founder and president of New Directions Consulting, Inc. and author of teambuilding books, including the 2nd edition of the Team Building Tool Kit (Fall, 2007). As an international consultant and trainer for 20+ years, Deborah is a widely recognized authority on teams, quality service, productivity, and leadership. For more information, visit New Directions Consulting.

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