Group Management Consensus Voting

Consensus Building in Groups pt. 3: the definitive ranking system for dissent

Two weeks ago we introduced consensus building into our good group management toolbox.

Last week, we gave you some malleable steps to bring it to your group process.

This week: how to measure dissent in the ranks

Dissent in consensus building is a foregone conclusion. The process relies on examining conflict, or challenges to proposed ideas, in order to come to the best possible solutions. In simple majority rule voting, there are winners and losers. In consensus building, the whole group has to stay focused on common ground and common goals in order to negotiate creative solutions that are more broadly satisfying.

Pull this out when you get to the ‘test’ phase of the consensus building process

If you follow the steps we proposed, you’ll eventually get to the proposal, amendment, test loop. Once your group has reached this stage of the consensus building process, the following ranking system will come in handy. Framing dissent as a spectrum will help organize the nuanced reasons that group members have for disagreeing with a proposal. It gives group members a vocabulary for discussing their feelings, and also permission to have reservations. There’s a lot of value in members knowing that amendments to the plan may make it a wiser plan and that this is all part of the process. Negotiating widely supported improvements to the plan is what it’s all about.

1. Full support:

Enthusiastic approval.

This could look like:

  • “Glory hallelujah when do we start?”
  • “I look forward to committing my time and energy to this. It will be great for the group”

2. Reserved consent:

Not a full thumbs up. This is like a thumbs up with an asterisk.

This could look like:

  • “If this is what everyone else wants to do, I can get on board but it wouldn’t have been my top choice.”
  • “I am mostly on board with this proposal, but I have several unaddressed concerns that I’d like to register with the group.”
  • “I’m not wild about this, but I agree that it is what is best for the group considering the other options.”

3. Sitting out:

Abstaining from the decision-making process and implementation altogether. This could happen for a number of reasons, including time and energy constraints. Members could also choose to sit out if they don’t support the plan but also don’t feel like jumping the bar to block it.

This could look like:

  • “I can’t participate in this because of X, so I will abstain from the conversation.”
  • “I have major concerns with this proposal and will not participate in implementation, but will let the rest of the group proceed without me.”
  • “I don’t think we’re ready to be voting at all and I think we need to consider more options before we have this conversation.”

4. Blocking:

This is blackballing the decision. The nuclear option. Group members who block feel so strongly about the errors in thinking behind the proposal that they cannot let it proceed without edits.

This could look like:

  • “The reservations I have about this plan are still going unaddressed, and they are important enough that I can’t let them slide out of focus. Until we address them, I will remain unmoved.”
  • “In my opinion this is diametrically opposed to our stated values and ethics and I cannot in good conscience watch it happen.”
  • “I think this plan is fundamentally flawed and would be bad for the group. I feel strongly enough about this to block this decision from being made.”
  • “Fugheddaboutit” **crosses arms over chest to sulk**

HOPEFULLY you don’t have any sulkers, but you might! And you should have a system in place for handling the group curmudgeons. Groups should explicitly spell out in their decision-making agreements how to handle blocking. THEN, groups should upload their decision-making agreements to a document repository where it can be available to the whole group whenever they need it. Leaders: we’re gonna suggest it again. Get yourself out of the paper-shuffling and email forwarding hot seat.

But back to blocking! Some groups choose to make parameters around blocking in order to ensure that progress is made. Check out this very well thought out co-housing decision-making agreement for more on this. For most groups, an easy way to keep blocks rare and well-reasoned is to make it a requirement that blockers help find solutions to the reservations they’ve expressed.

Happy Grouping,

The Team at Groupeasy

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