Taking decisions – with everyone, for everyone

Part 3: Consensus-based decision-making

Whether you’re planning a family holiday or your next marketing project: when social groups take decisions jointly, they often have to take account of a variety of different needs. How about finding a destination that meets both your teenage daughter’s desire for beach holiday in the sun and her mother’s interest in culture? A consensus is not a poorly thought-through compromise. It can be enriching for everyone, resulting in better and more sustainable solutions. Our series on how to take better decisions presents tools to improve the decisions you take for yourself and together with your team. In this issue of the Kuraray Online Magazine we look at consensus-based decision-making.

The main difference between consensus-based decision-making and other methods is that everyone involved must be explicitly prepared to accept the decision (“yes”) or at the very least be prepared to set aside their reservations. Therefore, everyone has a right of veto. 

Collins’ dictionary defines consensus as general agreement among a group of people. This basic definition masks enormous potential that you can use to reach better decisions with your team, for example on your new marketing strategy. “In teams where everyone is equal, majority decision are common, while in hierarchical structures decisions are taken by the manager,” says Daniela Niemeyer, organizational development specialist at Kuraray. “Yet there are other ways of taking decisions. It’s often worthwhile combining various proposals. That’s precisely the principle used in the consensus-based approach. Another benefit is that all team members’ ideas are integrated into the decision-making process so everyone supports the final outcome. That makes it a real team-building exercise.”

Bring together different views and opinions

The following example illustrates how best to achieve a consensus: Your marketing team comprises three people, A, B and C, who want to develop a new strategy to acquire customers. A suggests extending the sales area, B would like to step up customer support, while C suggests customer events. How can you combine these different ideas to reach agreement on a solution without overrunning your budget? It is important is to define a clear structure for the decision-making process. The four-step procedure outlined below is the simplest way to reach a consensus: 1. clarify the objective, 2. put forward opinions, 3. develop proposals for a solution and 4. broker a consensus. (The box at the end of this text gives further details of each point.) 

Step 4 is of often particularly tedious: it involves discussing possible solutions, making compromises and bringing points of view closer together until a decision is reached. Ultimately, a consensus-based decision brings together the best elements of the various proposals. In this example, the team opts for webinars rather than customer events as a key element in the new marketing strategy. That can add value for existing customers as well as providing scope to establish contact with new customers. 

Consensus-based team decisions – an inclusive method

Sounds time-consuming? You’re right! “There are doubtless faster methods when a decision has to be taken quickly. And consensus-based decision-making isn’t really suitable for decisions on a course of action that requires courage,” says Daniela Niemeyer. “However, in multi-faceted projects, it is can create real value. A wide range of views and opinions encourage people to look at issues from different perspectives  –  as a basis for sustainable and durable decisions that are truly accepted by every member of the team.”

Workflow for consensus-based decision-making

Consensus-based decision-making is a way of brining together many different ideas and suggestions to find a common denominator. All opinions are equal. Is your company about to make a decision where you need to take account of different views? We use a decision on a new marketing strategy to illustrate how to the consensus-based approach:

  1. Clarify the objective
    Why do we need a new marketing strategy? What should it achieve? 
  2. Put forward opinions
    All participants have an opportunity to put forward their proposals for the new strategy. In this way, everyone’s interests and ideas for the new strategy can be put on the table.
  3. Develop proposals for a solution
    Proposals that bring together the various strategies are collected, discussed and fine-tuned. 
  4. Broker a consensus
    In this stage, a proposal for a consensus is drawn up and evaluated in various stages until there is a solution that everyone in the team accepts.

Consensus-based decision-making is an excellent way of reaching viable and sustainable solutions. However, there are some risks: if individuals are not prepared to give the common objective priority over their own interests, the result can be endless discussions and obstruction. One way to resolve such situations is to use the systemic consensing method

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