What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Formal Consensus?



The overall effect of this structure on group behavior is quite profound and noticeable. Individuals are not required to be like others in their ideas or desires. Individuals are, however, expected to cooperate with the process. This process, if done well, allows difficult people to become cooperative people without the individual changing at all (except that they, too, must cooperate with the process). 

There seems to be a transformative quality to this environment that affects different people in different ways. Humans seem to have a deep need to be connected to other humans in a vulnerable and intimate way. To intentionally say to a group of people that you share a common purpose and then work together to make a Decision which helps accomplish that common purpose, is very nurturing and makes deep connections. Apparently, we all hunger for this in our lives. When people find themselves in this environment, aspects of the person become developed which were previously underutilized. 

Another often unexpected result of this environment is that meetings can become fun. Not humorous, but experimentally enjoyable, as in, having a good time, getting to know your peers better, getting things done, etc. It is typical, for example for a Formal Consensus based Meeting to start with a check-in where individuals briefly share their day and what is currently happening in their lives in a go-round discussion technique. Many groups have opening and closing rituals. Some sing songs. There are even cooperative games designed for Meetings. People can actually start to like meetings as a place to really connect and interact with their community.


There is a downside, however. Anything this powerful is going to have its problems. It is a big shift in the group's dynamics from any other group you have ever participated in. Your group, if you should adopt Formal Consensus and create this kind of environment and group culture, would be very different from other groups that do not use this Decision-making process. It can become difficult for your Formal Consensus based group to work in coalitions with other groups not employing Formal Consensus. It would be not so much because they wouldn't want to work with your group or that your group wouldn't want to work with them; but because it would be so painful to attend their meetings where competitive Decision-making takes place. It can be very difficult.


Sources: On Conflict & Consensus, Consensus for Cities

Contributors: Amy Rothstein, C.T. Butler

Recommended Books: On Conflict & Consensus, Consensus for Cities