One of the most difficult things that you will have to do in a project group is to make decisions about the direction of your project. The most common way to make a decision is by majority vote. While this practice seems reasonable, it is often very flawed as an effective decision making approach. Here are some reasons why a majority vote isn’t that effective:
- Majority votes often go to the decision option that has the most forceful support. Students are reluctant to vote against a position that is advocated by a forceful argument. Unfortunately a forceful argument can be simply the argument that is voiced the loudest and not necessarily the best choice.
- Those who advocated for an option not selected can often become very resentful. This is especially the case when they don’t feel that their option was given a fair hearing.
- Majority votes can often divide the group. One part of the group (the majority) tends to ignore what the other part of the group (the minority) is thinking. Groups tend to evolve into 2 cliques.
What’s a better approach than majority voting? Consensus is the decision making approach that works best. A consensus decision is one that:
- Everyone in the group can accept
- Everyone in the group agrees to support
Arriving at a consensus can be hard. It involves compromises. It involves respecting what each others think. It requires creative thinking to arrive at an answer that meets the needs of everyone.
The process of achieving consensus works like this.
- Once the group has discussed the issue, put the options suggested on separate sheets of paper.
- Make a list of pros and cons of each option.
- Add other options or modify the current options based upon the pros and cons analysis.
- Ask each team member to select an option they prefer, but ask them what could make it better.
- If step (4) is successful, a consensus will begin to emerge around one or two options.
- If two options remain after step (5), ask your group what would an option look like that combined the best of these two options.
- The result of step (6) should be the consensus. Conclude the process by asking each person whether they can live with the option and whether they will support it.
Arriving at a consensus will take longer than deciding by majority vote, but the result will be much better.