Decision Making Models: When Consensus just doesn’t make sense

Consensus as a decision-making model is great…except when it isn’t.  When the need to get buy-in is crucial for success, the group is relatively small and time is NOT of the essence consensus can be a great way to build teamwork, enhance results, and improve people’s ability to be autonomous towards team outcomes.  But people often confuse collaboration with consensus.  Collaboration is an idea and solution generating method, consensus is a decision making model. Though related, they are not the same.

It is also noteworthy to distinguish between being inclusive and being collaborative.  This difference may be a little more subtle but none the less important.  Being kept in the loop (inclusion) is slightly different than having your voice heard (collaboration).  You can be inclusive and never get any input from the other party, or perhaps never integrate their input into the final product.  It all depends on your intent and the other person’s preference.  One person may want to be included but not be overly concerned with giving input on one project, whereas another person has a vested interest and wants to play a role rather than just be informed of what is going on.

They all live on the same spectrum but at varying degrees.  Inclusion is usually a basic desire for most team members – at least tell me what is happening; collaboration is desired when people have expertise to give and a desire to do so; consensus is best when people have a vested interest in the outcome and their full support is required for the end decision to be successful.  So while each can be an effective choice, going to the extreme of consensus all the time can be an exhausting and time consuming process.  And it is not always what people need or desire – sometimes they just want you to make a decision.