RE: Consensus Advice
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Fri, 8 Jan 1999 09:06:36 -0600
Guns are one of the top 10 conflict issues in community. Its too bad you had
to deal with it, perhaps before you were ready. One thing I would like to
pull out of your description and highlight:

> Sherri has for some time (by her own decision) been largely withdrawn as a
> member (she concentrates on her role as developer) and was not in
> attendance
> at about half of the early meetings working through examining our
> goals and
> doing conflict mediation on the gun policy. We do publish our minutes via
> email, and we have a member responsible for developer liaison.  I
> believe she
> went to at least one of the committee meetings, but I don't have those
> minutes.  By the time Sherri joined the group discussions, we
> were well on our
> way to a consensus that would have released the ban on guns in favor of a
> policy requiring substantial safety measures.

When you make consensus decisions that span multiple meetings, a common
problem is that in one meeting, after listening and understanding, you make
a lot of progress, which is later derailed by someone(s), at the next
meeting who missed hearing all the good reasons and negotitating give and
take.  This is a classic group consensus problem.  One key to consensus is
being present for the whole process, because so much of the work is sharing
and listening, and this is never adequately documented in minutes, you have
to be present to understand the emotion and hear what people say to have it
work change on you. What happens then is often the same issues and
discussions have to be replayed, and if you have not experienced this, you
can imagine how tired people will get.

I did a mediation once with a group which had a "crazy maker" a person of
influence, who would avoid the issues meetings, then show up, take a hard
position at the decision point, and cause the rest of the group to move that
way, then not come to the next two meetings -while the group struggled to
accomodate them in absentee. The person would  then show up, and do it again
with the compromise the group had struggle so hard to create. This pattern
absolutely killed the groups abilty to get any work done on the issue (which
may have been the real reason for the behavior in the first place) and they
were all frustrated. About a third of the group had left by the time I got
there and pointed out that particular problem.

They adopted a temporary rule, after quite a bit of discussion,(try it out
for three meetings) that only people who were present for the whole of the
process could be involved in the final decision. This fixed the problem
temporarily in that everyone was always present for all the meetings. the
crazy making behavior, of dropping bombs at the last minute got detoured.
Another thing I did was get them to pay attention to what was happening by
assigning people process record keeping duties, and then debriefing each
meeting. The process note takers found several other behaviors that were
counter productive, they debriefed them (focusing on behaviors, not people)
and managed to pull themselves back together. The final thing I gave them,
was a checklist of 10 postive behaviors that improve meeting outcomes. (see
links below for this info)

If you use consensus, you are well advised to pay attention and debrief your
meetings regularily, to learn what is going well so you can continue doing
those things, and what is not going well, so you can brainstorm ideas to
improve. This is one of the four key things you need to do to make consensus
work.  Consensus is not a natural action, it is a learned skill, and a team
sport, sort of like soccer. Each person has a role and the sum total of the
groups synergy, good or bad, can be effected by the play(behavior) of any
one member of the team.

Rob Sandelin
Consensus Works!
Lots of consensus materials at

Also can get there from the resources links on

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