Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Building Consensus

The following is a slightly adapted version of a piece that appeared in the latest (29.6.09) Rumors ezine.

Our organizations might be better off without either the American text on Parliamentary Procedure (Robert’s Rules of Order) or the Bourinot, the standard used by the House of Commons in Ottawa, although both Bourinot and Roberts agree on some basic principles.
One is that there can be no discussion until a formal motion defines the issue.
Another is that each person may speak only once (except the mover, who may also close the debate).
However, it’s been said about these: “If you’ve only got one chance to speak, you tend to come out with all guns blazing to support your position. You have no idea yet how others will react, so you shoot down any opposition before it can come up.”
It’s hardly a process for building consensus.
I can say this, having had – for one period of my life – a reputation for writing absolutely scathing memos to colleagues in another office, memos that have since appalled me. But I know why I did it. Because I had only one chance to convince them. Their decision would affect my reputation. So it was all or nothing.
I’ve often seen meetings where every speaker argued against an imagined opposition. When the actual vote came, everyone was in favour. The opposition was never there.
In a group of friends, ideas are traded, pros and cons weighed, implications considered… a consensus emerges.
The aboriginal practice of a circle works well, too, if the group is not too large. Everyone gets a chance to speak; everyone listens. No one interrupts; no one dominates. If there’s no consensus, you go around again.
But it can take a long time. So larger bodies tend to fall back on the rules of parliamentary procedure to expedite debate and discussion.
But there are other ways.
One church organization allows a speaker two minutes to present an idea. Any idea. It doesn’t have to be a formal motion – the official decision could get shaped later.
After two minutes, the other delegates indicate shades of support:
1. I love it, and I’ll work for it.
2. I agree.
3. I can accept it.
4. I disagree, but I won’t block it.
5. I disagree strongly, and I’ll block it if I can.
If the mood seems generally favorable, further discussion takes place. But if enough people oppose the proposal strongly enough to resist it with any tactics short of terrorism, the proponents may withdraw their proposal, or take time to make it more acceptable.
It’s a much more practical process.

I thought the above - originally by Jim Taylor - was interesting in terms of the way many church committees/presbyteries/sessions etc function...

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