Frederic Laloux writes in his amazing, world-changing, and ground-breaking book “Reinventing Organizations” that self-management works without consensus. “It is worth repeating that these decision-making processes work without consensus.” He continues that “for some reason, many people naturally assume that in the absence of bosses, decisions in self-management organizations will be made by consensus. And because they have been scarred by the paralysis and endless discussions that often come when people seek consensus, they are quick to dismiss self-management as a viable way to run organizations.” He follows that consensus “dilutes responsibility”. I partly disagree with this view. In my opinion consensus can also be used in self-management organizations if implemented the right way.
I totally agree in the sense of traditional decision-making processes using a consensus approach. In such situations people often fight for their own proposal, trying to convince others that their own proposal is the best one, even devaluating the proposals of the other group members. Sometimes people even go too far, dissing other people on a personal level. You may imagine that this leads to aggressive and tense atmospheres, igniting conflicts between individuals. Conflicts that even survive the end of the meeting and will harm the team spirit, cooperation, and collaboration further on in the organization.
I disagree in terms of a general statement. Consensus can be very effective AND healthy if it is used the right way. The approach of consensus I mean is called Systemic Consensus. Systemic Consensus focuses on measuring the resistance of people for the different proposals. The one with the minimum resistance value is the one that comes closest to consensus. And here is how it goes: First the people brainstorm different solutions. Then each group member attaches a value between 0 and 10 to every proposed solution – the resistance value. A value of zero means that the person has no obstacles against the proposal. A value of ten means fully denial of the proposal. A value of 1 to 9 lies somewhere in between. Finally, the resistance values of all people are summed up. The proposal with the minimum resistance value, which is equivalent to the highest acceptance, is the chosen one.
Concerning the group dynamics using the traditional consensus approach, Systemic Consensus changes the playground completely. Having in mind that the other group members will vote against one’s own proposal, everyone needs to consider the views of the other group members. This not only creates a harmonic atmosphere of collaboration but even more boosts the sense of community. No more ego fights, no more endless discussions, no more paralysis. Quick solutions with clear responsibilities. Solutions with the highest acceptance within the group.
Thus, consensus is also a viable option in self-management organizations, when used in the proper way of Systemic Consensus.
NOTE: Unfortunately, the book that describes this approach in more detail by their creators exists currently only in German language. As far as I know there is no English translation available yet. https://www.amazon.de/Systemisches-KONSENSIEREN-Schl%C3%BCssel-gemeinsamen-Erfolg/dp/3980863549/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1529138994&sr=8-1&keywords=Systemisches+KONSENSIEREN%3A+Der+Schl%C3%BCssel+zum+gemeinsamen+Erfolg