Different group decision-making methods

Jason Yip
2 min readFeb 18, 2017

Via Edgar Schein in Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship:

  1. Decision by lack of response. Someone proposes an idea, but before anyone responds to it, someone else proposes another idea, and so on, until the group finds an idea they want to act on. The decision-making occurs through ignoring ideas. This is “silence means lack of agreement”.
  2. Decision by formal authority. The group can generate ideas and discuss them, but someone with formal authority makes the decisions. This method is efficient but whether the right decision is made depends on whether the decision-maker is a good listener and gets the right information. Also, lack of group involvement in the decision-making tends to lead to lower quality of implementation due to lack of understanding and/or buy-in.
  3. Decision by self-authorisation. A minority of the group propose an idea and no one objects. This is “silence means consent”. In the worse cases, everyone assumes total agreement even though most people disagree but are silent.
  4. Decision by majority rule. This may be a poll or a more formal approach of making motions, getting a second, asking for votes, etc. There are 3 problems with decision by majority rule: (1) the minority often disagrees with majority rule but are unable to challenge it; (2) the minority often feels there was insufficient discussion to really get their point across; (3) the voting process tends to encourage win-lose competition.
  5. Decision by consent. Consent means that even for group members that do not agree with the proposal, they understand and are prepared to support it. This includes allowing time for everyone to state any opposition to the extent that they feel others understand alternatives. NOTE: Schein uses “consensus” to describe this but I’ll use “consent” to better match how this concept is used in sociocracy / holacracy.
  6. Decision by unanimous consensus. This means that everyone fully agrees with the proposal.

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl