All thriving organizations need a life-serving purpose, a distinct identity, and a clear direction. With these goals articulated and agreed upon, the values of the group can drive discussion. Without this defined and shared purpose, discussion hinges on the values of individuals or parties. This debate can be long, meandering, and often results in compromise or stagnation (We see this on an international scale frequently). If a company doesn’t have an established vision for what characteristics make a successful employee, a consensus discussion on which of two candidates to hire could literally take a month.
Guiding philosophy is open for question and change at any point, however, distinguishing between a challenge to guiding philosophy, and a challenge to specific policy, is essential in having focused discussion in either case.
Allowing everything on the company website, the staff manuals, or other guiding documents to be considered standing and agreed upon, until challenged, can serve as a foundation. Creating philosophy documents and recording notes when consensus decisions are made spares future discussions from starting at ground zero.
Consensus seeks to establish guidelines not policies. Paul Petzoldt, one of America’s most accomplished mountaineers, was famous for saying “Rules are for Fools.” He founded a school which sends thousands students and corporate teams on wilderness expeditions across the globe, empowering their instructors with guidelines, training, and wisdom, but not a single mandated rule. Policy is much like a ship set on course without the ability to alter course for weather or rocks or other ships. Meanwhile, guidelines have direction, bounds, and an agreed destination, without a narrowly fixed path to arrive. Guidelines are essential for consensus communities as they focus communal decisions on creating a vision and direction, rather than a tedious code of laws.