This weekend I attended a board retreat that was facilitated by organizational consultant extraordinaire, Nancy Brodsky. Early on she talked about consensus versus majority rule.
She explained that consensus occurs when everyone has an opportunity to share his or her thoughts, everyone listens to the collective input, and then a decision is stated by the facilitator and/or the boss, which is further discussed by the entire group until it can be actively supported and implemented by everyone. Nancy then pointed out that consensus is not achieved through a majority vote, that it’s not a compromise, it’s not necessarily your first choice, and it’s not a win/lose situation.
I’ve never been a big fan of consensus in the past because I felt it was just the lowest common denominator that everyone was willing to accept. However, after watching Nancy guide two days worth of discussions, I realized that in the end everyone supported the final decision even though it was reached through long debates. It was the debating and exchanging of perspectives that allowed a better end result than would have been reached if every decision was based purely on a vote.
In other words, powerful consensus can be reached through effective and patient collaboration. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to a decision. Take a little longer and get to a decision in a way that everyone can support it.