Consensus decision-making means learning about and addressing concerns of all before moving ahead. (This is quite different from the [mis]use of the term to mean a vote was not taken [which may have been because the minority chose not to raise its voice, or to keep raising its voice].)
The implications of this are many:
1. The majority needs to inquire about and come to understand the concerns of the minority. If the minority feels heard and understood, there is more of a chance that a path ahead can be found that all sign on to.
2. The majority does not rule, so there is no concept of a minority “blocking” a majority.
3. The leader is not a chief who can decide how to act on this/her own, but a spokesperson and advocate for the consensus.
4. Participants need to be sure about what the consensus is (e.g., through circulation of notes from the consensus-generating meeting) and promptly ask for another meeting if their concerns if they think the consensus has been incorrectly recorded or if they subsequently develop reservations.
5. Behind-the-scenes departures from the consensus are not helpful.
6. When leaders have to report to hierarchical (i.e., non-consensus) decision makers, they bring dictates/mandates back to the group to develop a consensus about how to respond and be in solidarity about that response.
Although consensus decision-making can take time (and when pressed for time, voting tends to become a tempting fallback option), the virtues of consensus decision-making are that the participants are more invested in carrying out the decisions.
Consensus decision-making is enhanced by pre-circulation of meeting agenda, all the relevant data, and documents that spell out the implications of alternative positions.
From a wikipage, last edited 17 May ’07, accessible via a collection of “Thought-pieces on working in and changing Academic Organizations,”