In principle, the amount of energy (time, money, etc.) invested in a group decision should be in proportion to the amount of impact it’s likely to have. The magnitude of the impact is a combination of how many people are affected, how deeply, and for how long into the future.
Consensus decisions are best suited to those that we expect to affect many people and last a long time — decisions that are expected to live longer than the current generation of decision makers. Consensus decisions are characterized by inclusive participation, shared understanding, and acceptance among all key stakeholders. This is when everybody decides for everybody.
Majority rule works well for medium-size decisions: decisions that are expected to last for awhile but are open to challenge and easily changed as majorities change (as generations of decision makers turn over). This is when most of the people decide for everybody.
One person in charge works well for decisions expected to last a short time with limited impact. Here, one person makes decisions on behalf of everybody.
Practical Tip: Don’t use the same decision method for all decisions. Up front, consider the likely magnitude of impact for each decision and choose consensus, majority rule, one decider, or some other method. You might use consensus for things like mission statements and strategic plans, majority rule for things like annual budgets, and leave day-to-day operations to individual deciders.
It’s not right-sized for just one person to decide the group’s 10-year plan, or for tomorrow’s schedule to be decided by consensus.
– Craig Freshley