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Why is the consensus leadership style widely recommended for providing leadership to workers under a

Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group getting their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with.

This ensures that all opinions, ideas and concerns are taken into account. Through listening closely to each other, the group aims to come up with proposals that work for everyone. By definition, in consensus no decision is made against the will of an individual or a minority.

If significant concerns remain unresolved, a proposal can be blocked and prevented from going ahead. This means that the whole group has to work hard at finding solutions that address everyone's concerns rather than ignoring or overruling minority opinions. Consensus is used widely by people around the world working towards a more just and equitable society: The exact process may differ depending on the size of the group and other factors, but the basic principle of co-operation between equals remains the same.

In this guide you'll find lots of information to help you make decisions using consensus, including why you might use it, the basic principles and process, how to apply it to larger groups of people and ideas for dealing with common problems. We also have a short guide to consensusand our guide Facilitating meetings contains lots of tips for making your consensus meetings run smoothly. Many of us experience very little control over our lives in the wider world, with decisions being made for us by managers, benefits agencies, the police, politicians.

The rewards this system promises are mostly about mobility within the hierarchy: And we're encouraged to compete with each other and scapegoat whoever is beneath us in the pile, instead of questioning why there isn't enough to go round in the first place.

Using consensus gives us a taste of how things could be done differently.

Consensus Decision Making

It aims to dismantle all kind of hierarchy, and replace it with shared power. It is based on the values of equality, freedom, co-operation and respect for everyone's needs. Benefits of using consensus The benefits outlined below don't come automatically when a group switches to consensus! We usually have to work hard at making them a reality.

But if these things are what you're aiming for, learning to use consensus is a great place to start. Sharing power Consensus enables us to take collective control over the decisions that affect us. At its heart is a respectful dialogue between equals, with people working together to meet everyone's needs.

From the individual's perspective this means having as much control as possible over decisions that affect you, without having undue control over everyone else. Consensus means working with each other rather than for or against each other. Building communities Consensus decisions aim to meet everyone's most important needs and find a balance between what different people want. In an effective consensus group, everyone knows they can be honest about what they want, and trust they will be taken seriously.

This in turn means getting to know each other as people, and building open and respectful relationships that are the building blocks of genuine community. It is neither compromise nor unanimity — it aims to go further by weaving together everyone's best ideas and key concerns — a process that often results in surprising and creative solutions, inspiring both the individual and the group as whole. Getting things done When everyone agrees with a decision they are much more likely to implement it.

In the long run, people are also more likely to stay involved in a group that is committed to hearing their views and meeting their needs. This is particularly important in voluntary groups, where most people vote with their feet and leave if they don't feel valued and respected. Protecting minority needs and opinions In consensus, anyone can 'block' a proposal - and prevent it from going ahead - by not giving their consent. This option should never be used lightly, because it takes away the freedom of others to do what they want.

However it provides a safety net for situations where a proposal would seriously hurt the group or people in it. Many groups very rarely use the block, but the fact that it is there means everyone knows from the outset that minority opinions cannot just be ignored, but solutions will have to be found to deal with all significant concerns.

Consensus and social justice Consensus is about more than the relationships you build, and the decisions you make within your own group.

  1. At the same time, remember that in most situations there are lots of different dynamics at play, not just the ones that are most present for you.
  2. Conditions for using consensus It is much easier to use consensus in an ongoing way if the right conditions are in place. However, to effectively use consensus we need to tackle these power dynamics.
  3. In contrast, asking 'The police want to come in, what shall we do?
  4. On top of that our societies are full of social structures that mean that people with certain privileges often get a much easier ride in life like being white and middle-class, to choose two examples among very many!
  5. Adopting consensus doesn't remove constraints like unjust economics and laws. You also need to think about the sort of groups you need — a random allocation or groups of people with particular skills or experience or with energy for the topic?

It also offers a part of the tool kit for a radically different way of organising society. What's wrong with the 'democracy' we've got?

  • Some of you feel that we should build treehouses in the park to stop the developers, but we think we should try and raise money to buy the land;
  • We're want to be clear that we are one group doing both of these things.

Compare the values above to the ones that rule the world we live in. The western-style system of voting for representatives presents itself as the highest form of democracy. Yet in the very nations which shout loudest about the virtues of democracy, many people don't even bother to vote any more; whoever they vote for, decisions are made by an elite of powerful politicians and business people whose interests are completely different from the people they are supposed to represent.

And not only do those politicians make laws for us without consulting us - they have the backing of the police, the prison system and the military to make sure we abide by their laws. Being allowed to vote 20 times in a lifetime for an MP or other political representatives is a poor substitute for having the power ourselves to make the decisions that affect every aspect of our lives.

  1. If not, could you build up those conditions?
  2. Using consensus in coalitions and alliances Coalitions and alliances formed between pre-existing groups, for example to fight a specific issue, may find it difficult to reach consensus.
  3. In all three previous scenarios, team members can be expected to have a significant stake in the proceedings, so we know the political or professional styles of leadership will be activated.
  4. This is then tested in the same way as above. Make sure there are opportunities for lots of communication and updates between different sub-groups.
  5. Being allowed to vote 20 times in a lifetime for an MP or other political representatives is a poor substitute for having the power ourselves to make the decisions that affect every aspect of our lives.

In addition, most institutions and work places are entirely hierarchical — students and employees don't usually get a chance to vote their superiors into office or have any decision-making power in the places where they spend the greatest part of their lives. Or consider the supermarket chain muscling its way into a town against the will of local people.

On top of that our societies are full of social structures that mean that people with certain privileges often get a much easier ride in life like being white and middle-class, to choose two examples among very many! Most areas of our society are ruled by power, status and money, not through democracy. Another world is possible The people in power would have us believe that this system is natural and inevitable. However, humanity is capable of organising itself in many different ways.

Better alternatives to the current system are already here, growing in the gaps between the paving stones of state authority and corporate control. These seedlings of a fairer society give us a taste of just how different things could be.

Homeless people occupying empty houses and turning them into collective homes, workers buying out the businesses they work for and running them on equitable terms, gardening groups growing vegetables collectively - once we start looking there are hundreds of examples of co-operative organising that we encounter in our daily lives.

Many of the people struggling for social justice have recognised that changing the way we make decisions is key to achieving equality and freedom. A just society is one that manages to balance the needs and desires of every individual with those of the closer community and the wider world. These are precisely the aims of consensus. When we use consensus in our groups we are practising the skills and attitudes we need to organise society in more equal ways.

And more than that! Those groups could be the building blocks of something much bigger. Consensus has the potential to be used by much larger communities that want to organise co-operatively. See the section on Consensus in large groups for the methods that make this kind of large scale organising possible. Challenges of doing consensus in an unjust world Most of us live in societies that are profoundly unequal, and these inequalities are often reflected inside our groups too - making it much harder to genuinely live by values of respect, equality, freedom and co-operation.

  • It also ensures that the tasks of the meeting get done, that decisions are made and implemented;
  • Draw on all the experience, knowledge and wisdom present in your group;
  • Don't be afraid of disagreement and conflict;
  • Work out where to go from there.

We often bring the attitudes of wider society into the room with us and this can really limit the equality and freedom of individuals within our consensus groups. Making decisions that are truly consensual requires us to unlearn the beliefs we were taught by an exploitative society, and instead learn more respectful and co-operative behaviours.

In addition, our ability to come up with creative, win-win solutions is often severely limited by the options available. Adopting consensus doesn't remove constraints like unjust economics and laws. For example, a group of people could try to take more control over their lives by deciding to get a house together, and make decisions about how they live by consensus. Even if they managed to make their internal decisions as equals, an unjust society still limits what decisions they are able to make.

For example, in many parts of the world, a lack of social housing, profits made by landlords and banks, and crackdowns on squatting can make it very hard to find anywhere to live at all. Consensus is not a magic wand - it is one tool among many in the fight for a fairer world. And it takes a lot of practise. It is also about a lot more than just having better meetings - it is about building a culture that really puts principles like equality into practice.

And the better we are able to work together, the better place we are in to challenge the structures that make it so hard in the first place.

Why use consensus rather than committees or voting? Other common options for decision making in voluntary groups and co-operatives are having an elected committee or holding a direct vote on each decision. These methods have their benefits, and each group needs to decide what is best for them.

Here we explain what we see as the advantages of consensus over these options. We've also included 'informal hierarchy' — which describes a situation where groups are trying to use consensus, but some people have a lot more control than others. Elected committees Voluntary groups and co-operatives often elect a steering committee who make all the major decisions, to be carried out by a much bigger pool of people.

For example, the committee might decide on a campaign and design materials, and then rely on other group members to put the word out through street stalls and door-knocking.

Some people argue it is necessary to pass power to a committee in order to make long term strategic decisions and ensure things get done effectively. Collective decision making in contrast can feel unwieldy and slow. However, handing power to a small group of people, however well intentioned they may be, is no guarantee that they will act in our best interests or make the best choices.

We all have different kinds of intelligence, capability and morality, and it is usually better to pool our strengths than rely on what one person can offer. Effective group decision making is a skill that can be learnt. For example, many large co-ops successfully use consensus to manage their businesses and have developed innovative techniques to aid and speed up decision-making. Direct voting Here the members of a group do away with management committees and decide together on each issue by casting a direct vote.

Each member has one vote, and can either say yes, no or abstain from a decision. Most groups will have some discussion and amend the proposal before voting to make it work better for more people.

  • If you are to come to a solution that works for everyone you'll really need to get your head around different needs and ideas;
  • This will help with being clear whether a decision was reached or not and could be done by the facilitator;
  • Leadership success certainly cannot be guaranteed, but knowing when and when not to use a particular style will greatly enhance your capacity to succeed;
  • Be specific about what you have a problem with.

Those ideas that get a backing from a majority can go ahead, regardless of how strongly the minority feels. A belief used to justify voting is that if a majority of people think something, they must be right. This is not always the case! People go along with a proposal for all kinds of reasons — personal interests, lack of confidence to go against the flow, lack of information or simply not having thought about an issue much.

It may sometimes feel frustrating that in consensus just one or two people can bring up a concern and expect everyone else to deal with it. However, remember that at one time, only a small minority of people thought that climate change was something to worry about!

An argument for voting is that it is quick - because it takes less time to find a solution that only half the people in the room agree with. This can make sense when the decision isn't very important, or the situation is urgent and any decision is better than none. In consensus people might choose to go along with the majority view for these reasons. However, voting creates winners and losers, which can foster competition and distrust.

In decisions with real impacts on the people involved it is usually worth looking for full support.