Category Archives: Decisions and Power

Sociocracy has specific methods and practices for ensuring  that decision-making and power are linked and shared. Democracy was originally revolutionary by allowing the common citizen to make decisions using majority vote to make decisions. But it has no structure for ensuring that those decisions are implemented. A sociocratic system of communications and control would ensure better decision-making and give more power to democratic values.

“Blocks” & Vetos in Consensus Decision-Making

Picture of a Cement BlockI find the word block in consensus decision-making destructive. It is particularly counter-productive when used to refer to all objections, rather than seemingly unresolvable objections.

Objections do feel like blocks when after hours of discussion a person or persons will not consent — I find myself feeling this too. And sometimes when I object, in my gut I really want to block. I don’t want to argue the point, I just want to BLOCK. The problem is that when I use the word block, I create something fixed and hard. A cement block. A blockhead.  To be blocked is to be stopped dead in your tracks. All reasoning stops.

Emotion Substituted for Argument

Most often block is used as an epithet and slathered with emotion. The idea of logical argument is lost.

When I am tempted to accuse someone of using the word block, I am usually describing my feelings, not those of the other person. It’s my label. I created the block, not the person who is objecting. I’ve never heard person with objections say, “I’m blocking so forget it” or “I’m a blocker.” No one wears a T-shirt that says, “2011 World Record. Blocked 12 Decisions.” People who participate in groups that make decisions by consensus normally do want to consent. It’s uncomfortable to have to object, and emotions are unleashed obscuring the ability to argue logically.

“Blocks” Are Really Vetoes

A true block is really a veto. It isn’t subject to discussion and resolution. It can be over-ruled but not resolved.

Vetoes don’t have to be explained and are absolute. They are done. No discussion. Someone who vetoes an action is behaving as an outsider, not as part of the group. They are taking all power for themselves, leaving everyone else powerless. A veto represents power-over thinking, not power-with.

A veto means the decision-making environment is no longer open to making a better decision—one that will allow address everyone’s needs and allow the group to move forward as a group.

Objections Are Logical Arguments

An objection means that a person cannot work enthusiastically and energetically toward the aim of the group if the proposed decision is accepted. An objector is allowed to say, “If you make this decision, it will negatively affect my ability to be fully committed the organization.” The task then becomes finding a reasonable counter-proposal. One that will resolve the objection and still meet the aim of the original proposal.

Or find a way to obtain more information to test the objection—and to test the premise on which others are consenting. Consent also needs to be tested. A sole objector may be the person who has examined the situation more closely than those consenting.

A question that also needs to be asked in consensus decision-making is whether there is a shared aim. If not it is less likely that an objection will be resolved in any meaningful or lasting way. It is more likely to become a veto. If a person is vetoing, then the group must reconsider its aim or the aim of the decision. If the aim is not shared by everyone, consensus is unlikely to be a workable method of decision-making.

Participation in the process of working toward a shared aim distinguishes an objection from a veto.

Resistance to Rounds

I love rounds. They do many things but the most important to me is that they give everyone a chance to speak without raising their hand and waving it until the facilitator or discussion leader sees it, worrying about their place in the queue rather than listening, or  counting to see if everyone else has had a chance to speak before you can speak again. Rounds place the focus on what is being said, not the process of getting it said.

I like is the way they encourage people to speak who never raise their hand because they have nothing to add. Rounds encourage everyone speak in their own words. At first people may say,”I agree with Harry,” but with practice, almost everyone will move beyond this.

Creating Peacefulness

I like the peacefulness rounds bring to the group as everyone is focused on each speaker. In a round everyone is equal. They establish and re-establish equality in the room. Knowing that everyone will have an equal opportunity relaxes everyone. They become not only relaxed for themselves, but for others.

So why do we resist doing rounds? In my community, we repeatedly ask for them but they rarely happen. Too many people in the room is a big excuse. But with practice, this one could be overcome. Reminding people to say only what is “in their heart” or what is most relevant their decision, shortens the round. Not to pontificate addressing the arguments of  others.

Facilitocracy

But I wonder if a larger resistance is related to the facilitocracy that develops when groups are develop a dependence on the facilitator. Facilitocracies develop very quickly in full-group consensus models. Without the principles and structure of sociocracy and dynamic governance, the facilitator bears a huge burden in getting proposals passed. Their job becomes developing trust. If they are trusted, the process is easier. Personality holds sway, not arguments. This has its own pitfalls, however, because without a focus on arguments, the personalities of the objectors then also hold sway.

I’m beginning to consider that even more important in resistance to rounds is a facilitator’s desire to avoid shifting power to the group. Once they have developed their skills, which are often considerable, and gained the trust of the group, they want to keep the focus centered on their own facilitation. To control the room.

And to control the arguments.

And given credit for getting the job done.

Objections: Paramount, Principled, or Otherwise

In decision-making, one consents or one objects. Consent is defined as no objections. To object means no consent It’s very simple.

Consent has no modifiers so why should objections? No one asks for paramount or principled consent.

What would paramount consent be? Would we ask, “Are you consenting because this proposed action is the most important thing in the world right now?”

Do we examine the basis on which people are consenting? No, we don’t. But if someone objects and continues to object, we want to create qualifications for objections and tell them they can only object based on these qualifications. Objections get in our way so we try to blunt them. Consent doesn’t so we want to avoid looking at it too closely.

In terms of adopting a proposal, of making a decision, neither consent nor objections can be qualified. But they must be argued.

A proposal usually contains arguments in favor of an action and we assume that those consenting to it are consenting on the basis of those arguments. Many objections have usually been resolved in the proposal forming process. If objections remain, they can only be resolved by addressing the arguments for and against the proposal. The proposal is the subject. Objections can only exist in relation to the proposal and its affect on the individual and the group if it is adopted.

Why should we consent? Why should we object? Why we are consenting is just as vital as why we object. Rounds balance the objections with the consents.

If the group begins focusing on whether an objection is “allowed” or if it is really “paramount” (a word I could never get a grasp of), it has moved away from examining the content of the proposal to the motivations and character of the objector. The focus on the substance, the quality of the proposal and the quality of the argument is lost.

Stick to the proposal and addressing arguments, for as well as against.

Vision, Mission, and Aim

Having a vision, mission, and aim are very important in bringing coherence to your organization. You can call them by different names but combining them or collapsing them is not the best idea. It can lead to confusion and allow you to miss or avoid one or another of them. And the different names may confuse you as well.

Vision

The vision is your dream. What you want the world to be. On a grand scale, it’s why your organization exists. This dream could have led you in many different directions, but the dream would be the same. It is generally unchanging. This dream, your vision of the better world, is what will keep you and your organization moving forward when there is too much work to do and adversity of one kind or another has struck.

Many people want to skip the vision. It might be too heart wrenching and emotionally revealing. It might be too small, too embarrassingly simple. Many of the most successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, and large corporations have dreams, outlined in clearly stated vision statements, that rival the best of the non-profit organizations.

Mission

Your mission is how you will contribute to making the dream come true. It describes your sphere of  influence, the relationship between you and your vision. While the vision is a dream, the mission is action focused. It stakes out a territory. It says this is my subject, my industry, my work. This is what I’m going to do.

Your mission may change as the world changes and as you accomplish more. A mission statement should be reviewed every few years to determine if it is still relevant to your dream and if it is producing the changes you wanted to produce.

Aim

An aim is often called a goal or an objective. It is what you produce or accomplish. It is tangible and something that can be measured. If you can’t measure it, you can’t accomplish it.

Aims change frequently as you reach milestones and complete the work you set out to do. Aims should be realistic and based on reasonable expectations. An aim must be something you can point to with pride when you accomplish it. You must be able to see it. Your Vision is the dream that keeps you going when things are bleak and accomplishing your aim provides the daily satisfaction.

Where to Start

Sometimes it is easiest to start with your aim. It is tangible and you probably have some experience with it. Then define your mission, your relationship to the larger world, and then your vision.

On the other hand, idealists often have a dream and search around for a mission, their place to be in the world. Then they find a product or service that is needed in that niche.

But in the end, if you avoid your dream, work may be drudgery. If you avoid your mission, your relationship to the world will be fuzzy and confused. If you avoid defining a clear aim, you risk not just missing the target but having no target.

Equating Consensus and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) with Governance

Often heard: “We don’t use sociocracy or dynamic governance; we use consensus.” Or, “We don’t use dynamic governance; we use non-violent communication (NVC).

The simple problem with these oppositions is that neither consensus nor NVC are governance methods. They don’t come with a set of principles or practices for structuring an organization, managing operations, and ensuring that the appropriate people are making the necessary decisions.

Consensus is a method for making decisions, just like majority vote is used to make decisions.

NVC is a technique for clarifying one’s feelings and needs, and can be very helpful when making decisions.

To say that you govern or organize yourselves using either of these is to say you have no governance structure. In the case of consensus, you have a decision-making method, which is usually used by the whole group participating. In the case of NVC, you have is a method for each member to clarify their needs and attempt to have them met.

So What Is Governance?

A governance method determines:  Who are the decision-makers and what decisions can they can make. How decisions are made. How resources—money and people—will be allocated. How policies be established and changed. How the work of the organization will be done. Who will determine what that work is. Most of our organizations, of course, don’t do this very clearly. Or they do it from time to time but then things change and the policies and practices aren’t updated.

Organizations, like systems, need a coherent structure of relationships between parts and a clear flow of information and resources. A governance method is necessary to establish and maintain that structure. Neither consensus nor NVC provide this.

My Pivotal Consensus Experience

In 1972 with a group of parents forming a cooperative school, predominantly young Yale faculty members who had moved to town to join a new college. We were committed to diversity and having a hard time recruiting people of color and from a different socio-economic class.

We were having an equally hard time finding appropriate space that we could afford. This was long before charter schools so we were funding the whole thing ourselves. We had been offered a space in a Presbyterian church in the center of the city, just where we wanted to be. We had had hours of discussion. Everyone consented to accept the lease except one very young African American single mother. No one wanted to either pressure her to consent or disregard her opinion or to lose her from the group. We had met several times in the previous two weeks and were exhausted, ready to take anything. It was after midnight when we finally agreed to sleep on it and meet again the next night.

After the meeting as we all went to our cars the conversations were about what we would do if she didn’t change her mind. No one agreed with her reasons but some thought we should give up the space in order to empower her personally and prove that we were serious about diversity. Others found this condescending and patronizing.

When we reassembled the next night, everyone was tense and not meeting each other’s eyes. We started the round with the young woman. She said she was willing to respect the group’s decision but still felt strongly that it would be a mistake.

One by one, every person in the room sincerely agreed with her. The space was in the basement of an all white church that was fairly conservative. Most parent cooperative schools then had been started in reaction to segregation or the teaching of evolution in schools. We would be reinforcing that view of our school if we chose that space — even though we would have a separate entrance and an address on another street. Even though we were going to be an open school and had hired teachers with fairly radical ideas, there would also be pressure to conform. It wouldn’t be a long term home and would be a bad start.

The self-assured optimism of the educated elite that believed it could change the minds of anyone with their successful progressive school and rational arguments, no matter how different their values, had melted overnight into her realism. She knew from her experience and her perspective that these people wouldn’t change — they liked who they were and it was a church where they had full control. They would be more than we could bear when we were still so new and untested.

We found other space shortly afterward.

One thing I’ve learned is that few groups are willing to spend the amount of time and listening required to work out this level of consensus. Perhaps in cohousing the aims are too diverse. Pre-move-in the task is huge and complex but the aim focused. We set aside our other aims. After move-in, all the personal aims we had deferred reemerge and exist in one place. With 65+ adults, there are a lot of aims. People with strong personal aims elsewhere don’t have that much the time or energy to spend on community aims unless they consciously make and preserve room for them.

Consent & Responsibility

In dynamic governance there is no option to stand aside — the only options are consent or object. If you don’t have tangible objections, ones that can be teased out and addressed, then you consent. It maybe a passive consent, “I don’t see any reason not to do this”, or an active consent, “I really think this is a good idea.” Both are consent.

We have members who insist on having a stand aside option, in my opinion, because they don’t want the responsibility of making a decision. They always want more time, more information, more reassurance. The status quo doesn’t require them to take responsibility. It just is what it is.

We have a lot of people who don’t want to make decisions so they don’t come to meetings. They are happy to have others make the decisions and they will abide by them.

But the stand asides are different. They want to actively be on record as not taking responsibility for this decision. Even if you have come in late and don’t know anything about the issue, you can consent to allow the group to move forward. Standing aside doesn’t stop the decision, so why do it?

In consensus decision-making each person is responsible for the decisions they allow to go forward. Accepting that responsibility is hard. What if I’m wrong? How can I consent to a budget if I have no concept of budgeting and can’t imagine being responsible for spending $200,000 a year on facilities maintenance?

Because consent can be given for a million reasons. This is why I like to know why other people are consenting. My decision is based on theirs as well as on my own. If Joe is consenting to a proposal to do xxx because he believes xxx is a good idea or if he is consenting because he knows xxx is a bad idea but “people have to learn,” I need to know that because my decision is informed by his. I consent as an individual, but consensus represents the consent of many.

I consent if I know nothing but trust that those making the proposal do know something or have consulted experts. I recently consented to a proposal that I have no faith in at all but those making the proposal are acting in good faith and have consulted the dubious, in my view, but only experts that exist on the subject. The damage, if any, to the facilities will be minimal if they are wrong. If the solution is too labor intensive, it will die a slow death anyway. People know my logic and have decided to move forward.

When we decided to accept the gift of a fountain when for our cohousing community, I objected because I had lived in a condominium with a fountain. It was constant maintenance and caused conflict for residents because of the noise and the expense of repairing it. Even with a full staff, it was often left on all night to the irritation of those who couldn’t sleep. I relayed my experience, laid out my questions, and assured myself that everyone had considered them and was aware of potential problems. All the problems have occurred, but I understand what was important to people — the romantic idea of a fountain and what they regarded as a work of art in the piazza. This was something most had never imagined they would have. That alone was worth the aggravation, and for some people, still is, even though it is usually turned off.

It’s a lot easier to allow others to make decisions so you can complain, but when you consent you are taking responsibility. That is a new experience for many. One way to handle it is to accept that decisions are based on the best knowledge available at the time, and can be changed. Measure results, and improve the decision. You are doing the best you can do. And so is everyone else.

How We Decide and Why It Matters

Book Cover for Lehrer's How We DecideA wonderfully readable update on brain research is Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide that looks at how our emotions affect decisions and what the brain tells us about it. Lehrer worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, is editor-at-large for Seed Magazine, and  publishes regularly in major magazines and newspapers. He has both the education to interpret brain research and the ability to write about it clearly — welcome ability. And the results of this research are fascinating.

The brain is constantly growing and changing based on the information it receives, whether that information is emotional, social, or physical. Our “gut” reactions  are fast and accurate because our brain has decoded the information faster than we could rationally analyze it. First we know, then we know we know. Unfortunately, our gut feelings are often difficult to explain or even understand and we ignore them, going instead for the response that sounds right.

One of the subjects Lehrer examines is expertise. The reason sociocratic organization works is that it establishes feedback loops that provide information about performance. Malcolm Gladwell has reported that people become proficient when they have worked at something for 10,000 hours. The Beatles were able to outperform other bands at such a  young age because as teenagers they had a unique ability to perform frequently. Lehrer’s research shows that isn’t all. The expertise comes from the feedback received while gaining that experience. The interactions and measurements that come from audience responses and the musician’s experimentation. It isn’t the playing; it’s the recognition of mistakes. Analyzing one’s mistakes improves performance but recognizing mistakes is more likely to happen with an audience.

The sociocratic organizational structure is designed to ensure feedback. Measurement and analysis are fundamental at all levels. Looking at what is working and what is not. Lehrer talks with Bill Robertie who has become a world-class expert not only chess but in poker and backgammon. Unless all that practice includes analysis of his decisions and their result, his play would not have improved. And negative feedback, he says, was the best kind. We learn from our mistakes.

A fascinating study by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, looked at the results of praise on children. Half were praised for their intelligence, the other half for their hard work. In later studies, those who had been praised for hard work actually performed better. Those praised for their intelligence were careful to choose easy work in order to retain the view of themselves as intelligent while those praised for working hard, worked harder and chose the harder studies that allowed them learn more. The differences were not just “statistically significant”. Those praised for working harder raised their scores by 30%. The scores for those praised for their intelligence fell by 20%.

Loss aversion fundamentally affects our decision-making in all areas of our lives, and opens us to manipulation by marketers and unreasonable responses to news, to information about the stock market, for example.

Impulsivity is a higher predictor of low SAT scores than academic performance as early as kindergarten. Brain development in children diagnosed with ADHD is on average 3.5 years behind that of other children. Brain research looks at all these phenomenon and studies how one brain functions in the face of the same emotional desires as another, and which one is successful in achieving a satisfactory solution. And the results are unexpected and unpredictable.

The ability to achieve a clean-slate, a brain ready for making new association that lead to new insights, is essential. The insight is achieved in a flash of energy, then the slate is clean again, waiting. Herbert Simon said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Lehrer also reports on studies of satisfaction — one shows that for each hour of increased time commuting, one needs to earn $40,000 more to make the commute worth it.

A striking conclusion is that anyone who wants to make difficult decisions better or more often, needs a more emotional thought process. Once one  has the education and the information, time spent consciously  contemplating the alternatives will probably be counter-productive. “The hardest calls are the ones that require the most feeling.”

Research like this has led to a change in how authority is viewed everywhere from the cockpit of major airlines to hospital surgeries. Staffs are trained to question authority when things don’t feel right. Don’t presume that the person with the degree or the title is making the best decision. Decision-making in complex pressure-driven situations is too hard for one brain to sort out.

An excellent and well-written book that is highly recommended.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Boston and NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. To buy the paperback at Amazon.

How Can Everyone Make Decisions?

How could it be possible for everyone in a company to be making decisions? There is too much information. People would be in meetings all day and most people don’t want all that information and won’t listen anyway.

In the sociocratic structure of interconnected decision-making circles, everyone participates in the decisions that directly affect their daily work, but only in those decisions. Unless they are the elected representative or the operational leader they don’t participate in larger decisions.

The key is making work units small enough that the decisions that need to be made are relevant to each worker in the circle. That any information they receive is relevant and necessary. People pay attention to relevant information. They need it in order to do a good job — and almost everyone wants to do a good job.

How small the unit needs to be depends on the complexity of the work. If 50 people are doing the same job, the information and decisions that affect one affect them all. If 50 people are doing 15 different jobs, they probably need smaller work units.

The principle is to empower people to be responsible for their own work. That requires also having control over how that work is done. Participation without meaning can be as oppressive as no participation.

The Fixer

Many communities—cohousing, religious, etc.—believe that conflict resolution is based on loving and understanding. That if we just care more and understand each other’s needs, conflict will go away. They emphasize how hard this is. “This is the hard work we all need to do.”

Peace workers, in particular, are big on love and understanding and couple attempts to acquire it not only with hard work but with courage. “It takes a lot of courage to sit down one-on-one and have a hard conversation about our common needs.” Conflict is war, peace is understanding. Both require courage, however, so even though we are avoiding war, we are still courageous. Even more courageous.

And how do we acquire love and understanding? Face-to-face. Contact.

The perfect process is face-to-face conversations focused on understanding needs and love is the only solution. Now, in day-to-day living, this is a non-starter in the worst conflicts, and will ensure that many minor but festering conflicts will never be mentioned in public, or not until they are the size of neutron bombs. Some people thrive on face-to-face conversations. Others are drained beyond belief. Plus when living in a community, how many face-to-face conversations can one have in a week and still keep your home and family functioning?

Those who do not thrive on or do not have time for more personal contact will certainly avoid even admitting a conflict. The fear that they would be coaxed into such a conversation, even by trickery from those who are convinced that this is just what you need (as if it were a laxative), be blamed of triangulating because they might express their conflict to someone other than the object of their frustration, or be called out in public as requiring salvation, like a Baptist in a prayer meeting, would ensure that they suffer in silence or leave the community.

You notice that the emphasis amongst the hard-work and courage advocates has been deftly moved from the content of the conflict to the need for love and understanding. Accept the hard work, sit down for the face-to-face, and the wonderous joy will come out. We will be one. Harmony will hold us in its arms. All else will fade away.

Without going into all the research demonstrating that love is not enough, and not even necessary, I’ll say that the method I would like see developed is The Fix. Something like NVC’s 4 steps and more manageable than the 12-step programs. The method used in the Vernon Jordan School of Getting Things Done. It would go something like this:

1. Find a savvy insider who knows what is possible and what is probably not.
2. Talk to Bill.
3. Talk to Monica.
4. Repeat as necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Forget the hard work. Forget the courage. Forget the love and understanding. Focus on the conflict and the people involved. Look around and see if this is systemic. Does it need a limited solution or policy change?

Someone please go for it.

Conflict Resolution: The Fixer

Many communities—cohousing, religious, etc.—believe that conflict resolution is based on loving and understanding. That if we just care more and understand each other’s needs, conflict will go away. They emphasize how hard this is. “This is the hard work we all need to do.”

Peace workers, in particular, are big on love and understanding and couple attempts to acquire it not only with hard work but with courage. “It takes a lot of courage to sit down one-on-one and have a hard conversation about our common needs.” Conflict is war, peace is understanding. Both require courage, however, so even though we are avoiding war, we are still courageous. Even more courageous.

And how do we acquire love and understanding? Face-to-face. Contact.

The perfect process is face-to-face conversations focused on understanding needs and love is the only solution. Now, in day-to-day living, this is a non-starter in the worst conflicts, and will ensure that many minor but festering conflicts will never be mentioned in public, or not until they are the size of neutron bombs. Some people thrive on face-to-face conversations. Others are drained beyond belief. Plus when living in a community, how many face-to-face conversations can one have in a week and still keep your home and family functioning?

Those who do not thrive on or do not have time for more personal contact will certainly avoid even admitting a conflict. The fear that they would be coaxed into such a conversation, even by trickery from those who are convinced that this is just what you need (as if it were a laxative), be blamed of triangulating because they might express their conflict to someone other than the object of their frustration, or be called out in public as requiring salvation, like a Baptist in a prayer meeting, would ensure that they suffer in silence or leave the community.

You notice that the emphasis amongst the hard-work and courage advocates has been deftly moved from the content of the conflict to the need for love and understanding. Accept the hard work, sit down for the face-to-face, and the wonderous joy will come out. We will be one. Harmony will hold us in its arms. All else will fade away.

Without going into all the research demonstrating that love is not enough, and not even necessary, I’ll say that the method I would like see developed is The Fixer. Something like NVC’s 4 steps and more manageable than the 12-step programs. The method used in the Vernon Jordan School of Getting Things Done. It would go something like this:

1. Find a savvy insider who knows what is possible and what is probably not.
2. Talk to Bill.
3. Talk to Monica.
4. Repeat as necessary until everyone is satisfied.

Forget the hard work. Forget the courage. Forget the love and understanding. Focus on the conflict and the people involved. Look around and see if this is systemic. Does it need a limited solution or policy change?

Someone please go for it.

Satisfice: Satisfying & Sufficient

Satisfice (a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy that attempts to meet criteria for adequacy and not to find an ideal solution.

The word satisfice was created by Herbert Simon in 1947. He pointed out that human beings lack the cognitive resources to maximize: we usually do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes, we can rarely test all outcomes with sufficient precision, and our memories are weak and unreliable. A more realistic approach to rationality takes into account these limitations but attempts to find a solution that is satisfying and suffices in addressing the issue and moving forward.

The Costs of the Optimal Solution

The alternative is to continue to search for a probably elusive perfect solution. A satisficing strategy may often be near optimal if the costs of the decision-making process itself, such as the cost of obtaining complete information, are considered in the decision.

The Principle of Good Enough

Sociocratic literature and trainers often use the Principle of Good Enough to mean satisfying. In software development and systems design, good enough means that a solution meets the clients needs even though a more capable solution is available. But often good enough is perceived negatively  as adequate, acceptable, tolerable, rather than the more positive terms satisfactory, respectable, reasonable, and all right.

In situations where a group is striving for optimal solutions and achievements, good enough may be met with disdain. The standard of satisfying might be more acceptable since it also sets a clear standard. The solution must not only suffice; it must be satisfying.

Often the characteristic that produces satisfaction is the ability of the solution to help a group more forward.

Consensus, Compromise, or Pay Offs?

The board of a wildlife federation reaches consensus on a plan to save a threatened wild bird’s habitat by deleting the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have something they want but that is only tangentially related. A local bike trail organization calls off its protests against a new parking lot when it is promised a wider bike path on a major street.

Is this the same kind of push and pull that is required to reach consensus? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no.

All these solutions are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims as effectively as if they had built a consensus. The wildlife federation board has an action plan with no teeth. The Senate has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bike trail group has shown themselves to be easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

A consensus decision is characterized by its ability to move the group toward its aim because each member consents only when they can actively support and implement the proposed action. The proposal may not be comprehensive or ideal but under the circumstances, in the eyes of each member, it should be both effective and the most effective that can be achieved. By definition, compromises and payoffs do not reach this standard.

The wildlife federation decision may well discourage action altogether and make the organization look foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be supported, and if passed, not implemented. In the bike trail group where members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken their crucial support for the organization.

Organizations are built by and composed of individual members. Compromises and pay-offs discourage the support of members If the aim of the organization is to be achieved, it can only be achieved by its members, still united as individuals, after the decisions have been made.

Consensus, Compromises, or Pay Offs?

The board of a wildlife federation reaches consensus on a plan to save a threatened wild bird’s habitat by deleting the budget for legal action. A senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have something they want but that is only tangentially related. A local bike trail organization calls off its protests against a new parking lot when it is promised a wider bike path on a major street.

Is this the same kind of push and pull that is required to reach consensus? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no.

All these solutions are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims as effectively as if they had built a consensus. The wildlife federation board’s action plan has no teeth. The senate has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bike trail group has shown themselves to be easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

A consensus decision is characterized by its ability to move the group toward its aim because each member consents only when they can actively support and implement the proposed action. The proposal may not be comprehensive or ideal but under the circumstances, in the eyes of each member, it should be the most effective that can be achieved. By definition, compromises and payoffs do not reach this standard.

The wildlife federation decision may well discourage action altogether and the organization may seem foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be supported, and if passed, not implemented. In the bike trail group where members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken crucial support for the organization.

Organizations are built by and composed of members. Compromises and pay-offs discourage member support.  If the aim of the organization is to be achieved, its members must still be united after a decision has been made.

Building Consent — Compromise or Payoffs?

On the demands of its membership, but failing at building consent, the board of a wildlife federation passes a controversial plan to save a wild bird’s threatened habitat but then quietly deletes the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have added unrelated perks for their constituencies, bloating the budget with cost overruns. A local bicycle-path organization calls off its protests against a huge, new parking lot when the city promises a wider path in new legislation.

Is this just the push and pull required to reach consent? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no. The wildlife federation board adopted a plan with no teeth. The senate committee has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bicycle-path group has proved themselves easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

All these decisions are failures at building consent. They are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims.

A good decision results when each member consents to actively support and implement the proposed action because it moves the group toward its aim. Even in these organizations where the group cannot use consent decision-making effectively — they are too large to deliberate together — the smaller leadership groups could. By building consent, they could have made more effort at good solutions that met all their aims.

Instead, the wildlife federation decision has discouraged action and made the organization look foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be passed by the larger legislative body, and if passed, not implemented. In the bicycle-path group, in which members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken crucial support for the organization.