You’re in a meeting, and it’s time to make a decision. Your past practice has been to use consensus as your decision-making methodology.
The group understands that consensus means that everyone is willing to support one option.
The problem is that of the options currently under consideration, there isn’t one that everyone will support.
What should you do to keep this impasse from wrecking your meeting? Need a hint? We’ll do multiple choice.
- Develop new options until one does gain the support of everyone in the room.
- Agree that the group is deadlocked, and move on to a new topic.
- Take a vote and call it a day.
- Appoint someone with the proper authority or expertise to make the decision.
Most of the time I’m a big fan of consensus-based decision making in meetings. In the past, I would likely pick option 1.
These days I’m gaining a new appreciation for option 3, as long as I can qualify my answer in two important ways.
Caveat 1: Agree to Methodology Well Before the Decision
You can’t pull this idea out of your back pocket after the group is at an impasse. Assuming there is a clear majority in the room, the minority will smell a rat and howl that you are trying to squash its position.
People think voting is fast and fair. They like it, when they believe they can win. That’s why you need to get them signed up for its use when there isn’t a question on the table.
Caveat 2: Use a Super Majority
In most work groups, the voters are implement the decision. The last thing you need is for a large percentage of participants, who lost the vote, be those who are supposed to convert the decision to action. This is just asking for trouble.
One way to get around this is to shrink the size of the losing side by requiring decisions to win a super-majority of the vote.
Again, you can set this percent in advance. I’d start the bidding at 70%. Your group can negotiate from there. I like the sound of 80%. It’s a strong majority, and it somehow sounds right when you start tossing around references to the 80/20 rule.
Consensus First — Voting Second
I’m not giving up on consensus. Make it Plan A for major decisions. It’s only when it becomes obvious that it’s not going to result in a decision that you should go to Plan B. Apply the voting rule, along with the required winning threshold that the group predetermined.
Tally the vote, if the threshold was met, announce the decision and move forward. If it fails, it’s time for new options and/or more debate.