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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

The Way a Group Makes Decisions Reflects Its Identiy

Authored By:

Carolee Hayes


December 5, 2023

When we define ourselves as a collaborative group we are agreeing to an identity where equal value is given to everyone and we agree to work to find solutions and strategies that everyone can actively support. This means that most decisions are made by a process of consensus. No decisions are made by a majority and all people agree to a decision before it is implemented. Value is placed on shared power, freedom, cooperation, and respect for everyone’s needs and perspectives. However, few groups pursue this end, instead using hierarchical decision making or voting, where a minority is left undervalued, discarded, and often unheard. Identity becomes win/lose in those groups. As people feel more and more disempowered, group trust decreases and people often disengage.

Consensus is important to groups when decisions are critical to all members. What are some of the conditions that must exist to truly become a collaborative group?

  • Trust is probably the most important condition. This means even if you dislike a person in the group, you trust that they have good intentions and motives related to the groups’ work and that you behave that way towards them.

  • When people are clear about the common goals and vision of the group, they are more willing to commit to a greater purpose. Knowing our “true North,” keeps us aligned on our mission.

  • Consensus must be a clear agreement between group members as the preferred model for equitable decision making. If some members seek power and “winning,” consensus will be sabotaged.

  • Flexibility requires being willing to give up one’s own ideas and being willing to genuinely value diverse perspectives.

  • Time is needed for consensus, so groups need to agree and understand the commitment to the process. Usually consensus leads to more lasting, effective decisions by avoiding ill-considered options or ulterior motives.

  • Active engagement and a willingness to be fully present are necessary for all participants if the group is truly going to find common ground. This means giving up fear of conflict, depersonalizing disagreement, and using positive presuppositions.

How might these conditions be present or not in groups where you are a member or are facilitating? What is the identity of your groups?

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