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Management by Consensus

The word ‘consensus’ connotes the solidarity of belief in a group. When that style is applied to management, it means that the whole group supports a specific task wholeheartedly. When management by consensus is used, it means the group is given a chance to study a proposal, weigh its pros and cons and state their negative thoughts. Inputs from all members are important because it will mean sharing ideas that others may not have thought of.

The good thing about management by consensus is that no one will feel left out. It is an equal opportunity type of management that considers everyone’s sentiments. However, it is essential to set ground rules and standards for interpersonal behavior before this management approach is applied. While everyone has a right to be heard, it is more important to respect each other.

What is Management by Consensus?

Management by consensus is a management style wherein all the members of the team should be heard. Whatever the beliefs, viewpoint or differences in opinion may be, it is brought out in the open for discussion. Consensus means the general agreement of all. If one member is dissatisfied or against a decision, he will be asked what he thinks should be done to make it better.

So basically, whatever decision is reached assumes that everyone is amenable to it. Everyone will wholeheartedly support the project or task because their thoughts have been expressed and taken into consideration. This type of management upholds that people are honest, competent and are genuinely concerned about the company’s future. It demands the group’s dedication and sacrifice to achieve its goals and targets. Everyone involved should know about the company’s mission and vision and have strong convictions about it. 

Objectives of Management by Consensus

A company adopts a certain type of management for various reasons. If consensus management is followed then it means the management aims to be:

  • Agreement seeking: It attempts to let everyone get everything that they need. Every proposal is discussed, debated and clarified thoroughly.

  • Inclusive: As many members as possible should be included and be involved in the decision-making process. It is not limited to one or two people only.

  • Egalitarian: It aims to give everyone an equal opportunity to share his or her inputs and be heard. Everyone can say what is on his or her mind.

  • Cooperative: Every member is encouraged to cooperate so the group can reach the best decision possible.

  • Collaborative:  Each input is considered and weighed appropriately. The suggestions are for the good of the company. They all collaborate to reach a viable resolution to a proposal.

Essential Elements

For consensus management to work, there are three essential elements necessary.

  • Time: Decision-making takes time and since all members’ opinions are considered they are given a chance to air their grievances or dissention, if any. The time it takes for a group to reach a decision could be similar to when only a single person does it.

  • Communication Skills: It is very important that everyone is willing to listen, be open-minded, thinks creatively and accepts conflict resolution. This type of management relies in communicating and sharing of ideas and thoughts. Decisions are based on discussions regarding the proposal or project.

  • Active participation: If only a few members of the group participate, it defeats the entire purpose of management by consensus. Everyone should take part in all discussions as much as possible. In the end, everyone will be working on that proposal or project anyway.

The Consensus Process

There are three stages of the consensus process.

  • Understand the proposal. This means that the proposal is stated, clarified, and any concerns are given. The first consensus will be held in this stage.

  • Resolve all concerns. Whatever concerns they have must be listed and resolved. Then the second consensus will happen. Group purpose will then be evaluated, and group values are also included. Then the third consensus will follow. The next step will be re-examining issues and concerns. Finally, the last consensus will be taken.

  • Even after all the steps are taken and still, no consensus is reached, more time will be given or the proposal might be withdrawn. Concerned members may step aside and sending a proposal to a sub-group may also be done.

Not all times will a consensus be reached. There are moments when dissent is so great that a specific project may be have to be foregone.

Advantages of Management by Consensus

There are advantages to using this management style. Management by consensus means better decisions are made.

  • First of all, risk is reduced. If a single manager did the decision making alone, the ideas and inputs will be limited. But if he asks for ideas and hears the weaknesses and concerns of other people, the company could avoid huge losses and avert possible complications.

  • Second, it builds the support of everyone involved. It’s entirely different if only one person decides and you are all required to carry it out. If you have any contradictions or opposition, it would be hard to give your total support to a cause.

  • Lastly, it builds management strength. It serves as practice for future decision-making. You are also bound when mistakes are created. Everyone is willing to help make amends and adapt changes to correct the wrong decisions. It promotes unity within the company.

Tips on Building Consensus Management

When applying or using management by consensus, it’s best to take your time. There is always tomorrow. If everyone cannot reach a decision right away, hold it off. People think more clearly after a good night’s sleep anyway. You can also try working out of the boardroom. Sometimes, the environment stops people from being creative or from being able to think critically. Think of having a working lunch in a restaurant or even outdoors. It can stimulate members into thinking positively in the relaxing environment.

It is important to allow room for errors. Sometimes, not all decisions will be positive and that’s okay. Room for error means room for growth. After all, you can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes. Balance is very important in this management style. The manager is like a legislator and his bill has to pass several readings before it can get approval.