JustChange is a group of people who make decisions by consensus. This is no small feat; some of us knew each other before we began this project, but many of us did not. Decision making by consensus is a great challenge, but when it is achieved, it can lead to better decisions, and in the long-term, more effective group dynamics.
Having spent a good deal of time participating in, and sometimes chairing, volunteer boards, I wanted to share my views on why decision making by consensus is important, how we achieve it, what the challenges and benefits have been, and provide my thoughts for why this model has worked for us. This is a bit of a personal reflection, and I can’t claim to speak for anyone else on the board in this – though I hope they share similar views.
Firstly though, what I mean by decision-making by consensus is that by the end of the meeting, we have come to an agreement that each member of the board can support. It may not be everyone’s first choice walking in (in many cases it isn’t) but it’s a choice that we can all agree on, or at the very least support.
I believe strongly that the decisions that are made around the JustChange board table are better because we are committed to making decisions by consensus. This is because we have to listen to all voices around the table, including marginal voices. As an aside, I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons that democracies fare better over the long-term compared to more authoritarian forms of government – but that’s another topic for another day!
The fact is that because we have to come to an agreement, everyone’s perspective on an issue is brought to the table, and everyone listens to that perspective. We aren’t looking for a simple majority on a decision, we’re looking for everyone to support it, and that means that everyone’s questions, comments, and concerns have to get dealt with.
In the end, having so many people think and listen to everyone else’s views means that decisions are more informed, and fundamentally better than when looking for enough support to form a simple majority, when a single voice – a single voice bringing up a very important point – can sometimes be neglected in favour of expediency.
I have never been part of a board like JustChange. Firstly, our meetings are virtually un-chaired. We may start with someone giving a brief introduction and meeting a proposed agenda and process, but the role of “the chair”, as much as one can call it that, passes from person to person as the meeting progresses.
Yes, sometimes, this results in moments of chaos, where several people end up talking to each other simultaneously, but things settle of their own accord and the meeting proceeds with an order, shocking to anyone who’s been involved in a volunteer board.
Part of what allows us to do this, is the fact that we are each basically equals on the board, no one person, or group of people is really the leader. Some of us lead given initiatives, but nobody gets to drag anyone else anywhere. We are all working toward a common goal, but no one person is taking everyone else along towards their vision. We share a common vision and we are consistently pulling in the same direction.
The other big reason this has all worked is because we’re all very honest with each other. Or perhaps it’s that we’re very honest and very forgiving. Apart from the benefits inherent in honesty, this means that we haven’t suffered from groupthink that groups like these can suffer from. By that I mean the propensity of some groups to want to agree with each other and either put down, or have people not express, dissenting opinions.
You’ll excuse me if this sounds like I’m repeating my earlier statement – but this bears emphasis. Single dissenting voices have to be heard to achieve the best decision, and to ensure long-term engagement by members.
I can’t recall a single meeting where I left thinking all the same things that I went in thinking. I think the rest of the board can agree with this; and that’s a good thing.
Alright – now that I’ve convinced you that this is so great, how are you going to implement it in your group interactions? While this method isn’t for everyone (it can be slower, and gets much more difficult as group sizes grow) I would urge most small groups to consider giving it a try.
If you want more information on this, or have any questions on the topic, or on how you can use it in your groups, feel free to drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’d be happy to speak with you, or provide you with my perspectives on how you might use this in you’re your own groups.