Consensus Decision Making

Everyone must agree

Gathering consensus takes time, but it works well when a decision will impact many people, and those people have valuable insight and the capacity for candid negotiation.

  • Slow – Fast 10% 10%
  • Independent – Collaborative 95% 95%
  • Hierarchical – Egalitarian 95% 95%
  • Private – Transparent 95% 95%

Consensus decision-making asks everyone in the group to shape the decision until a compromise that reasonably satisfies everyone is reached. Unlike some other decision-making models, consensus strives to incorporate everyone’s perspectives, needs, and ultimately their permission.

Consensus has a long history of use in tight-knit communities like faith groups, neighbourhoods, and unions. Consensus also tends to be how recently formed organizations first approach decision making.


  • Satisfies all constituents
  • Fosters strong, united groups
  • Equalizes the distribution of power in a group
  • Constituents leave fully prepared to implement the decision


  • Can take forever
  • Nearly impossible for groups with low trust or competing interests
  • Difficulty increases as group grows larger
  • Subject to compromises that may not serve the group well

The Process

  1. Define the problem or opportunity and capture it where people can see it
  2. Brainstorm all possible options: write them down, cluster similar ideas
  3. Take an initial non-binding vote to gauge the feelings of the group
  4. Have people make a case for options they feel strongly about
  5. Take another non-binding vote
  6. Negotiate with holdouts: “What would it take to get you on board?”
  7. Repeat 4-7 until everyone agrees with the decision

Common Mistakes, Challenges and Traps

Failing to come to a consensus after multiple tries

It’s best to specify both a deadline and a fallback plan. With everyone’s best intentions, the team still may fail to agree as a group. Consensus takes time. Set the rules for success and state: “If we can’t agree by 3pm, we will shift to a democratic vote, or I will make the decision myself”. Knowing that the decision may be taken away from the group might accelerate group decision-making.


Not dedicating enough time

Reaching consensus on an important decision can take multiple conversations stretched across a good deal of time. So don’t wait until it is urgent. If you REALLY want to pursue consensus, start early and schedule multiple group conversations.