Consensus is powerful in tiny groups, unproductive in large groups

It’s quite well understood that once a group becomes too large, say more than ~6 people, consensus is quite an ineffective way to make decisions. There will be too many cooks in the kitchen, it could take a very long time to make a call, or the outcome will be suboptimal. Often when you force consensus among a large group, you will take away any opportunity for a differentiated or greater reward outcome, as the decision will likely be diluted to accommodate all perspectives. For certain decisions this may be desired, for others it may be suboptimal.

I’ve observed that as a company scales, it is natural that more people become involved in decisions, as overall numbers of stakeholders increases. With those increases, it can be easy to observe these downsides to consensus-based decision-making and conclude that no decisions should be made by consensus. I have experienced a shift towards determining a single decision-maker, or a RACI type decision-making framework introduced.

However, in my experience, having a single decision maker reduces the quality of decisions, as many important decisions need to be debated more deeply than this allows.

My conclusion has been that the best overall option is to work hard to keep decision-making groups small, but encourage consensus among 2-3 people on the most important decisions. I’ve found that the benefits of a consensus being required among a few people, and the deeper debate and reflection this leads to, results in the best outcomes.