Decisions and Power

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.

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