As I write this, it's Election Day 2004 in the US. I don't yet know what the result will be, but it occurred to me that we're engaged in one kind of group decision-making process. And that got me wondering about how many different variations there are for smaller groups. Here's Part I of a little catalog of commonly used group decision-making procedures. For Part II, see "Decisions, Decisions: II," Point Lookout for December 1, 2004.Consensus ensures
that any accepted proposal
has everyone's support
- Everyone has to agree whole-heartedly.
- Unanimity means "the state of being of one mind" and that's about the size of group this works best for: one. For larger groups, if there's even a little controversy, this process is very difficult.
- Everyone votes either "I agree completely, I will support it;" or "I can live with it, and I will support it;" or "No, I can't live with it and I will not support it." Sometimes this is done by a show of thumbs, respectively, Up, Sideways, or Down. If there's a single down thumb, the proposal is defeated; otherwise it's accepted.
- Consensus ensures that any accepted proposal has everyone's support. Some disadvantages: a small number can block any decision; there's a risk of groupthink; and achieving consensus can be slow. It's probably unworkable in a highly polarized environment.
- Consensus Minus N
- Like Consensus, except that the proposal is accepted with any number of No votes up to N.
- This is an attempt to deal with the problem of blocking by a tiny minority, and it can speed the decision. It's more workable than Consensus in a polarized environment if one faction is very small. The big risk: a dissenting minority can feel alienated or "check out."
- When the proposal before the group involves either rank ordering a set of options, or selecting one option from many, simple voting or consensus don't work very well, because they're oriented toward either accepting or rejecting a single proposition. In Multi-Voting, each participant has a set number of votes, which he or she can distribute among the options in any way at all.
- One weakness: there's no way to vote No. You might be able to address this by giving people a set of No votes to distribute freely among the options.
- The Authority (or Chair or Executive or manager or leader) decides, possibly after open discussion.
- This method is best for time-critical decisions, or for decisions for which open discussion is inappropriate, impossible, unethical or illegal.
- There is a risk of overlooking some issues, and alternative proposals; a risk of ethical conflicts; a risk of bias; and a risk of alienating some stakeholders, who might feel excluded from the process. And if the Authority controls compensation decisions, either directly or indirectly, participants in the discussion might not surface all issues.
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For a great resource on consensus, see "A Short Guide to Consensus Building, from the Public Disputes Program of Harvard Law School, the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the not-for-profit Consensus Building Institute.
- Brad Appleton
- Great article! This is an issue that I deal with a lot in my work. I wonder if you have seen any of the work of Ellen Gottesdiener. She has a book called "Requirements by Collaboration: Workshops for Defining Needs" and a good article/excerpt called "Decide how to Decide".
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Abraham, Mark, and Henny
- Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual
quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make
things so complicated?
- Virtual Communications: II
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part
II of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Recovering Time: II
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
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- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
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- High Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
- Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff
phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
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- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.