Tip of The Month

Making Team Decisions Through Consensus

By Ready2ACT's Penny McDaniel  


One of the most important skills for any successful team is making decisions together. Understanding basic decision-making techniques and options is important for all members.


There are four major forms of decision-making:

  • Leader decides
  • Majority rules
  • Minority rules (board, task force, etc.)
  • Consensus

The first three forms are both the norm and self-explanatory, but the fourth--consensus--is more rare. It is a complex process that deserves greater consideration. Consensus is not a process for determining whose ideas are best, but for searching together for the best solution for the group.


Decision making by consensus is a very old process.  Primitive tribes and cultures have used it for thousands of years. Early Jesuits in the 17th century called it Communal Discernment.  The Society of Friends (Quakers) have used it for over three hundred years, calling it seeking unity or gathering the sense of the meeting.  In the past decade or two it has come into use in a variety settings as diverse as businesses, communities, intentional communities, government and public partnerships, and social action groups.


Built into the consensual process is the belief that all persons have some part of the truth, and that we will reach a better decision by putting all of the pieces of the truth together before proceeding.  There are times when it appears that two pieces of the truth are in contradiction to each other, but the essence of consensus suggests that with clear thinking and attention to the problem, the whole issue may be grasped, including both or many pieces of the truth.


To be sure, the climate and level of trust among members can influence the process and success of even the smallest decisions. This is why it is important to address the decision openly and earnestly, being clear about your perspective while also being open to the perspectives of others.


Sam Kaner in The Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making discusses the importance of the Diverging and Converging process and how important it is for groups to stay in the uncomfortable diverging process for a while in order to think outside the box and come up with the best solutions.


Diverging includes:

  • Generating different ideas
  • Open discussion
  • Collecting different points of view
  • Analyzing the cause of the problem

 Converging involves:

  • Evaluating different ideas
  • Summarizing key points
  • Sorting ideas into categories
  • Choosing a solution, coming to a decision

 Either/or arguments do not advance this process.  Instead the process is a search for the very best solution to whatever the problem is.


Some important values for participatory decision-making include:




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to Ready2ACT's Operations Manager, Maggie Reinick, on the birth of her new baby girl, Molly May. 
Tiffany Dahlberg - Ready2ACT