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Consultative Decision Making

An insight into one of the core values of the ebbf, by Gary Reusche

Authoritative approaches to management are no longer appropriate in knowledge and service based companies. Consultative decision making, one of the core values of ebbf, is described in this new statement produced by ebbf member, Gary Reusche. This approach seeks participation and consensus in making decisions and unity in their execution. Drawing on the collective intelligence of those involved inspires better decisions and more effective implementation.

In this knowledge centre created by ebbf member Gary Reusche, we provide information on consultative decision making organized as follows:

  1. What is it? Why does it work? Where is it used?

  2. Pre-requisites and conditions

  3. Key processes

  4. Implementing in your team

  5. Case studies

  6. More information

  7. Interact, Comment, Ask your question on this topic

You may want to purchase EBBF’s publication on Consultation

  • Section 1 attempts to describe consultative decision making and its current application in businesses and organizations.

  • Section 2 attempts to describe the pre-requisites and give examples of why they must be considered if consultative decision making is employed. Ignoring the pre-requisites can nullify an attempt to implement consultation in a company or group.

  • Section 3 discusses the need for good time management, describes the genesis of creative and synergistic moments, and the linked theme of decision implementation and monitoring.

  • Sections 4-5 are action oriented. They attempt to provide guidelines and examples for a group desiring to start using consultative decision making methodology, or to improve the performance of an existing consultative group. New materials (PowerPoints, training exercises, etc.) will be regularly added to this section.

  • Section 6 includes a bibliography and links for more information.


The implications of the rapid change to a service and knowledge based economy create new requirements for business. Knowledge workers simply will not function well under traditional authoritarian styles of management nor can their organizations compete effectively without decision making approaches that draw on the pool of experience and create effective and productive teams.

1.1 Definition

There are many different ways or styles of decision making, ranging from very centralized authoritarian styles to what we are going to discuss in this knowledge centre—consultative decision making.

1.2 Why does it work?

Consultative decision making has, as its foundation, the theory that collective intelligence creates and implements better solutions than could individuals working alone. This effect is referred to as group synergy, when the result is greater than the sum of individual contributions.

1.3 Where is it used?

Consultative decision making can be used in all matters and is implicitly or explicitly related to a wide range of topics concerning team effectiveness, organizational culture and participatory processes.

1.4 Where not to use

Although consultative decision making is appropriate for a wide range of purposes, to blindly or indiscriminately apply it to all matters without regard for effectiveness and appropriateness would be counterproductive.


It is unlikely that any group will learn the basics of consultative decision making and immediately apply them successfully. A set of personal, interpersonal, problem-solving and even project cycle management skills are required and integral to the method. More details about how these various skills can be developed and then utilized to establish effective teams employing consultative decision making will be outlined below (Section 4).

In order for consultative decision making to be effective, there must be sufficient solidarity and willingness of the members of the group to employ this method and to work harmoniously. If indifference or hostility exist between members of the group, it is necessary to address and solve this problem. Otherwise the estranged members will alienate the other co-workers, and behaviors originating from rebellion or discontent will undermine the results.

A second condition is more subtle but equally important. The individuals of the group must be willing to look beyond their selves and be open to new ideas, seeing things from a different perspective, and even to humbly seek inspiration. In this receptive state, they “must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity; care and moderation to express their views.”

2.1 Independence and Values

Successful team relations depend upon the quality of the interrelations between the members. After undertaking research on personal effectiveness, Steven Covey states that effective relationships depend upon maturity and strength of character to maintain them . He states that it is “the principle of sequencing: private victory precedes public victory.” “Interdependence,” or in the case of “consultation decision making” the dynamics of deciding and working as a team, “is a choice that only independent people can make.”

2.2 Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills that are important in personal effectiveness in various contexts play a large role in the effectiveness of consultative decision making. The context of consultative decision making can exacerbate weaknesses in interpersonal skills, and shortcomings can become acute and trying. Some examples of these skills are given below.

2.2.1 Expressing opinions

During discussion, ideas build one upon the next, generating new ideas, until thebest decision emerges. There is creative interplay of ideas. For some topics involving innovation, there can be a rhythm of search and selection, exploration and synthesis, cycles of divergent thinking followed by convergence.

2.2.2 Listening

Effective listening is something that everybody needs to learn to do, some more than others. In consultative decision making it is essential that, before expressing one’s own view, a participant must carefully consider the views already advanced by others.

2.2.3 Detachment

“The members… must learn to express their views frankly, calmly, without passion or rancor… They must also learn to listen to the opinions of their fellow members without taking offense or belittling the views of another.” Such principles sound simple, but when not sincerely followed by the individuals of a group, dysfunction will occur.

2.2.4 Conflict resolution

Consultative decision making takes an interactionist view of conflict, or that conflict is not only a positive force in a group but that it is often necessary for a group to perform effectively.

2.3 Spirit, Attitudes and Culture

The values, behavior, and interpersonal skills of the individuals involved in consultative decision making create the basis for an enabling environment. There is also need for positive energy to be created in the group.


3.1 Time management

Consultative decision making is a powerful tool that can lose its effectiveness if used inappropriately, or it becomes the podium for self-expression or self-aggrandizement. One of the major criticisms of its use is due to the fact that it is more time consuming. Time management is important to ensure effectiveness.

3.2 Creative and synergetic moments

Larry Miller discusses the different stages that consultation goes through to arrive at a decision. Each stage has a different pattern of conversation. One of these stages is referred to as “dialogue” and concerns the process of seeking meaning and understanding. It is the most meditative stage of consultation.

3.3 Decision implementation and monitoring

Consultative decision making does not end with a consensus decision. Integral to the process is the plan for decision implementation and to ensure the process is monitored. Consulting without implementation and effective results is time wasted. The use of this creative and synergistic process has as its purpose action and objectively measurable results.


The previous sections are intended to provide information for an informed decision about the implementation of consultative decision making in a team or organizational network. This section assumes that the decision is made to implement this decision-making methodology, and that there are realistic expectations of the effort that is required to make it successful and bring the desired results. It attempts to provide guidance and instruction to those interested, based on the experience of individuals and institutions that use this approach. However, such guidance can not be all embracing, as every team or organization will have its specific requirements that will have to be addressed.

There are pre-requisites for consultative decision making. Not taking these seriously can compromise the effort. The following list of interventions, while not directly related to consultative decision making, and have their own justifications for any organization, play a major supporting role in the effective implementation of the methodology. It is strongly advised that they be considered when planning for the implementation of consultative decision making.

  • Analysis of decision making structures

  • Assessment of values of individuals involved

  • Personal effectiveness training

  • Cultural transformation programme

  • Communication skills

  • Project cycle management skills

4.1 Process

The process of consensus decision making is described differently by different individuals. Kolstoe suggests that decisions involve a three step process: understanding; resolving; and Implementing. Miller describes four “containers” of group consultation: structure and organization; fact finding and analysis; dialog; and deciding and planning. Lalui describes 7 levels…

4.2 Principles and Ground Rules

Ground rules define how the meeting will be run and are agreed by the participants of the consultative group. These rules describe the rights and responsibilities of the participants. Some examples of ground rules are given in this section.

4.3 Chairman

The chairman (or facilitator) plays a key role in consultative decision making. In some cases, the chairman is selected democratically, either by secret or open voting.

4.4 Recorders, Time Keepers, and “Vibes-Watchers”

The chairman needs support to be effective, and this support can be formalized by the group by agreeing on other roles within the group.

4.5 Coaching to get it right

Groups can be trained in the processes and prerequisites of consultative decision making, but the group will not meet the prerequisites immediately, nor will they master the processes simply by receiving training.


Case studies will be selected with the cooperation of EBBF members and partners and periodically added to the materials available on line. The EBBF publication “UNITED CONSULTATION: A Fresh Look at Participative Management” by Don Plunkett is available at this time and 4 cases are presented.

Individuals who use consultative decision making in their business or organization, and are willing to share their experiences with others on this web site, are kindly requested to send a short description for possible inclusion in the knowledge centre.


6.1 Bibliography

  1. Consultation: A Compilation, Baha’i Publishing Trust, Wilmette. IL 1980

  2. Brown, Don. To Build Anew: Creating Baha’i-inspired Enterprises: Principle-centered, Self-sustaining. Sooke, B.C. Canada. Paragon-Quest Publications, 2002.

  3. Covey, Stephen R. Principle-Centered Leadership. Simon & Schuster Inc., 1990.

  4. Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster Inc., 1989.

  5. Kolstoe, John E. Consultation: A Universal Lamp of Guidance. George Ronald, Oxford, 1985.

  6. Kolstoe, John E. Developing Genius: Getting the most out of group decision making. George Ronald, Oxford, 1995.

  7. Miller, Lawrence. M. Competing in The New Capitalism, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN. 2006

  8. Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together.

  9. Ellinor, Linda and Gerard, Glenna. Dialogue – Rediscovering the Transforming Power of Conversation.

  10. Flick, Deborah L. From Debate to Dialogue– Using the Understanding Process to Transform Our Conversations.

6.2 Internet Links

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