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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Rules for Reaching Consensus: A Modern Approach to Decision Making

Saint, Steven & Lawson, James R. (1994). Pfeiffer & Company.

Review by Samantha Spitzer

An easy to read, step-by-step guide to reaching consensus is available for managers and team leaders seeking to move from individual decision making to collective decision making.

Rules for Reaching Consensus: A Modern Approach to Decision-Making, a book by Steven Saint and James R. Lawson, is intended as a primer for organizations struggling with the collective decision making process. According to the authors,

Organizations of the twenty-first century are evolving... Solo decision making is giving way to collective decision making. The manager's role is shifting from making decisions to empowering others to make decisions. Those most knowledgeable and closest to the problem are becoming key to the decision making process. Due to this shift, manager's new role is to facilitate collective decision making among diverse individuals and teams.

Rules for Reaching Consensus is divided into six chapters. The breakdown of chapters, as listed in the introduction to the book, is as follows:

  • Chapter 1, 'Collective Decision Making', provides a perspective on traditional group decision making using democratic, majority rule. An alternative approach, consensus decision making, is proposed. Benefits and common misconceptions about the consensus process are addressed.
  • Chapter 2, 'Overview of the Consensus Meeting', provides a big-picture look at consensus-management meetings. It explains how to conduct the beginning, middle, and end of meetings, as well as how to define meeting roles and set an effective agenda.
  • Chapter 3, 'Preconsensus Process', discusses who the group is, what consensus is, and how the group will reach consensus.
  • Chapter 4, 'The Consensus Process and Rules', is the how-to section and includes a step-by-step process and rules for reaching consensus.
  • Chapter 5, 'Tips for Facilitators', provides a number of techniques for facilitating the consensus process.
  • Chapter 6, 'Consensus Management', examines the changing roles of management and managers in the twenty-first century. Ideas to foster the spirit and intent of consensus are included.

Although Rules for Reaching Consensus is geared toward businesses with multiple managers and team leaders, the information is applicable to smaller organizations such as university departments or student groups.

I liked the concise nature of Rules for Reaching Consensus. At 78 pages, the book is easily read in one sitting. The information is easy to understand, the font size is larger than in most books and the author's use of outlines and flow charts provide a nice summary of the content. I especially appreciated the author's use of brevity. Saint and Lawson explain that consensus works and, in a no-nonsense style, tell the reader how to incorporate the decision making process into an organization.

Rules for Reaching Consensus will probably not be useful for people who already know a great deal about consensus, or for those who desire a scholarly explanation of consensus. I would have liked to read case studies or examples of how the consensus process was implemented and used; such content was not found in the Rules for Reaching Consensus. The book, however, did provide basic, quick and helpful information. For a person with little knowledge about consensus, I came away with a decent understand of the process.

I highly recommend Rules for Reaching Consensus to team leaders who want to empower their team through collective decision making, and to people who need to refresh their understanding of how consensus works.
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