Consensus: The Right Team Decision Strategy?

Consensus is the appropriate decision strategy for the most important team decisions. Every member of your team needs to understand what consensus really means. A common misconception of consensus is that it means everyone agrees with the decision 100 percent.

If a team adopted this definition as the basis for all of its decisions, what would happen?

- The team would never be able to make a decision.

- The team would jump to a decision too quickly.

- Unimportant matters would be over-discussed.

Consensus means that everyone in the team can live with and fully support the decision. A win-win solution -- everyone feels that the best solution has been reached, team member positions were heard, and no one had to give in on any strongly held convictions or needs.

So what's the downside? Consensus decision making is time- and energy-consuming. It should be reserved for important decisions requiring strong team member support from those that will implement them.

How Do You Decide Which Strategy To Use?

It really depends on the decision being made and the size of your team. Below are some guidelines to determine when consensus should be used.

- When the decision affects all members of the team.

- When the decision will have a long-term impact on the team's performance.

- When the implementation of the solution requires coordination among team members.

- When the decision requires the experience and skills of many team members.

- When the decision involves a critical work challenge requiring the full commitment of the team.

- When the team is not working under emergency conditions and has the time to make the decision.

Use Caution -- Watch For Groupthink

We can't leave decision strategies without touching on Groupthink, a negative strategy.

Groupthink occurs when team members try so hard to achieve harmony and quick, efficient decisions that they fall into the habit of agreeing with one another too quickly.

This method discourages questioning and divergent thinking, hinders creativity, and usually leads to an inferior decision.

Team embers should attempt to explore alternatives. What should you do when a team is falling into Goupthink?

- Ask the team to come up with the pros and cons for the decision they have come up with. Weaknesses and concerns which may have been glossed over before will be brought out.

- Get the team to table the decision for now and come back with other alternatives at the next meeting.

Common Thread

Regardless of the decision strategy adopted by a team, there's one common thread. All team decisions must be supported by the individual team members.

How can you tell after the decision has been made whether the team truly supported it? It is not supported when:

- People complain about or demean the decision after the fact.

- Team members do not follow through with actions to implement the decision.

One of the most significant contributions you can make if you are building a team is to help them come up with their own answers by using a proper decision strategy.

Denise O'Berry (aka 'Team Doc') provides tools, tips and advice to help organizations build better teams. Find out more at

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