Meeting 3-3
Focus: Consensus Decision Making

The basic structure of this meeting is the same as Meeting 1.1 - refer back for more information.

Some issues may have come up during check-in that the group may wish to spend more time on rather than moving straight into the 'focus'; or perhaps some issue is still to be dealt with from the previous week. When it is appropriate the leader moves the group into the main focus for this meeting.

5) The Big Bit in the middle - the leader announces the focus of the meeting

Focus: Consensus Decision Making

"This means that the group enters into discussion, exploring an idea or decision, its pros and cons, what each man feels about it, and stays with that discussion until each man in the group can support it and agreement is reached."

"What it means for 'group process' is that individual points of view are welcomed and respected - sometimes one man will 'hold-out' for something that he feels is important - sometimes he will be persuaded by the group - sometimes he will persuade them."

"This also helps to prevent an 'inner group' within the group forcing its ideas or agenda on the remainder of the men in the group, without full and complete discussion, as may happen with simple majority decision; the focus instead becomes each man's 'truth' as he sees it - and exploring our individual perspectives on the 'truth'."

"The classic example is the movie '12 Angry Men', with Henry Fonda, who is the lone hold-out in a jury on a murder trial, who thinks the defendant may not be guilty, when 11 other jurors believe he is. He's not sure… But he wants to discuss it. In this case it turned out the majority were 'wrong'…".

When discussion is complete and agreement reached the 'leader' should write down the/a statement about consensus decision making - for future reference - and to tell new men as they join.

Consensus Decision Statement

This process may take more than one meeting!
At first look it may seem that this is a process that will prevent the group moving ahead, after all isn't majority decision a normal procedure we're all comfortable with? Well yes, but just listen to all the minorities complain about not being heard! - and decisions being made that don't take them into account -without their consent.

But this group is not just about making decisions, the process is really about learning to listen and giving each man a voice and opportunity to speak his 'truth'. In this process we discover 'being heard', we discover what it means to sit in that place of disagreement (conflict?) - and how to appreciate and give weight to each mans opinion. We're learning how to negotiate, respect each other, and ultimately find compromise, that middle way that we can both/all live with - rather than win-lose, we start to explore win-win.

Does this work? Yes! for many reasons:

  1. Think about it - to find compromise, you really do have to listen to what he wants.
  2. The group moves ahead, in a direction that is determined by all men in the group - we all 'buy into'/ invest in the process - we all feel 'a part of the group. Where-ever it goes, it's something that each one of us has helped to create. It's less likely that 6 months down the road someone will say 'this isn't what I wanted' - Why? because he was there, and he helped to consciously create it.
  3. Passion! If we can go with the passion - and stay with that energy we will do some good work together. Every idea ('good' or 'bad') has to occur in one individuals/man's head first! And one idea can change the world. It is normal to experience resistance to change - but if a man is passionate enough about something I have a choice to make - do I support him or not? Part of what a group can do, and sometimes the best part, is to support a man who is passionate about an idea ultimately it's his idea - it will either work or it won't - and he's taking the biggest risk. Consensus welcomes, allows, and validates a man's passion - sometimes extraordinary ideas that might not otherwise have made it past 'the committee'.
  4. ?

Problems with consensus decision making

Sometimes one man may be unable to come into agreement on a specific issue, it will seem as if compromise just isn't possible. Numerous things could be going on - ask him to speak his truth and say what is really going on for him in this process - maybe there is some underlying concern that he needs to deal with before being able to come into agreement. Consensus says it's ok to stop one process and deal with another, if that's what it takes - maybe this is his way of saying 'Hey, you guys aren't hearing me'. Ask!

  1. "Are we hearing you? - Is there something you need to say/deal with/get out of the way?"
  2. "Is there something going on for you?" - (He might need space/time to connect with what is going on for him…)
  3. "What can we do to support you right now?"
  4. "Can you say what you want?"
  5. "Is there something you have a problem with?"
  6. "What would a successful resolution of this situation look like to you?"

If he is not willing to let go of his position, and is unable to persuade the rest of the group, one method to try is both! ie what he wants for a fixed number of weeks, and then flip to the other position and try that for the same number of weeks. At the end of this trial period - renegotiate!

All of the above discussion assumes an attitude of 'reasonableness' on the part of each member of the group ie the group can only function (and reasonably be expected to function) from the point of view of 'good intent' toward group process being held by group members. However, when the stuff hits the fan, often good intentions are lost as we

  1. Try to get solution that suits me best, ignoring others needs/wants
  2. Inflict 'retribution' eg psychic, emotional - on someone who we perceive has harmed or hurt us in some way; or perhaps just holds an opposing viewpoint…
  3. harbour resentment towards someone (for above reasons) covertly, without revealing our 'perception' and waiting for chance to get even…(perhaps when they are most vulnerable).
  4. forget our rules and guidelines and 'drop the gloves'…
  5. Hold to personal viewpoint and refuse to be accommodating for selfish reasons (above), thereby effectively blocking group process (like the kid who has to have his own way)
  6. ?

Essentially we are trying to move to a 'cooperative' system with consensus decision making, rather than 'competitive'; most of us have grown up using and being victims of a competitive system - moving to a cooperative system is not going to be easy.

If it's Not working…

Is something happening that's similar to what's described above?

Are you spinning your wheels and getting nowhere - unable to come into agreement and move on?

Is someone imposing their ideas covertly? ie diverting from the real issue? Do you see it?

Can you name it?

Is there a logical sequence that can be uncovered? ie if we decide 'a', then we can decide 'b', then 'c'.

- Sometimes 'c' can't be resolved until 'b' is taken care of, but 'b' can't be decided until 'a' is!

This does get complicated and can be very exasperating in the heat of a meeting(s).

Sometimes a man will want to focus on item 'c' and refuse to budge (for his own reasons), or perhaps refuse to acknowledge the connection between a or b and c - sometimes he's just stalling and is using this as a tactic to avoid issue 'c' ever being resolved - he wants to be in that place/tension, and if he can hold you in that space too, well that's a bonus (for him, but not for group process, which is blocked, and may fizzle out as individuals get tired of the stalling and lack of movement).

Resolution…- Sometimes it won't be resolved - nothing anyone can do seems to fix situation - but that doesn't mean you have to stay stuck in that place; it is always legitimate to have a group divide time on different issues, and if one issue is stalled, taking a step back from it can be a healthy/helpful breathing space (this requires a special effort, as the tension from other issue will still be there). This means accepting current situation of non-resolution, despite tension and feelings and desire for resolution, and moving onto a different topic to take heat off the pot.


  1. See Conflict Resolution
  2. Suggest a time limit for a specific issue/discussion - at end of which if agreement is not reached then a majority vote is taken to resolve the issue.

In the final analysis, 'stuckness' also teaches us something of the very real human tendency to hang onto something that's not working; moving from that place of resistance and resentment into acceptance and compassion can be a worthwhile and healing journey - good luck!