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:
- Become a Tugboat Captain
- If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something
differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the
most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
- Using the Parking Lot
- In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the
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- Finding the Third Way
- When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus
on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
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- Overconfidence at Work
- Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence
— leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can
be most useful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
- And on August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
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44017: November 7,
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- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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