GROUPTHINK - a systemic view on group decisions and consensus

in #steemstem4 years ago (edited)

Conflicts - everyone has them, but nobody wants them. That is why we can deny conflicts better than solve them. The general attitude towards them is comparable to the Victorian attitude towards sex: accept, but not enjoy. Conflicts are part of life, especially of modern working life. The more contradictory, faster and more complex companies act in global competition, the more conflict competence becomes a magical ability. Training them means first and foremost facing conflicts.

brandeins - German economy magazine (translated)

I work in the frontend of "conflicts", where the insights from psychology and pedagogy gain a foothold, for example, in the form of methods of communication and decision making. I am mainly interested in methods that are about to become established but are not very well known. The keywords, I derive my knowledge from are "systemics" and "system theory" as well as "resource orientation". A characteristic that seems to be typical for me is to pay attention to fields in psychology that have so far received little attention. (btw: As I don't want to repeat myself, please take reference to my collection of scientific related articles.)

It requires some positive stubbornness and confidence in us humans in general, because we often feel "threatened" to be convinced of the opposite: that people are not to be trusted.

The systemic consensus, which I want to deal with here today,

offers surprisingly few sources, measured by the multitude of other scientific topics that can be found on the Internet. It is precisely this scarcity of finds that has aroused my interest. I think that there is potential to be developed, an opportunity to help group decisions reach consensus. Without the arduous, often very strenuous and time-consuming debates that are generally ascribed to decision-building.

What exactly is systemic consensus?

It is a formal method aiming at group decisions that is not based on the majority voting principle, but on the lowest resistance result of the group. This lowest resistance result is carried out using a scaling procedure.

By measuring the group resistance there is an objective decision criterion even if the majority decisions fail. And this criterion can be communicated very well to the participants.

Pro votes are adjusted to achieve some goals or fulfill some wishes. This leads to some unpleasant phenomena, like group egoism, exercise of power, vote catching, ruthlessness, winner and loser.


This sounds familiar, doesn't it? Where have you ever made a different experience, whenever you entered a situation that required a group to decide on something?

What is NOT consensus:

Consensus is Not Unanimity
Many people think of consensus as simply an extended voting method in which everyone must cast their votes the same way. Since unanimity of this kind rarely occurs in groups with more than one member, groups that try to use this kind of process usually end up being either extremely frustrated or coercive. Decisions are never made (leading to the demise of the group), they are made covertly, or some group or individual dominates the rest. Sometimes a majority dominates, sometimes a minority, sometimes an individual who employs “the Block.” But no matter how it is done, this coercive process is not consensus.


We are so used to thinking and acting according to the power principle that it is very difficult to accept a completely different method. The majority decision is just as much a part of our everyday life as asphalted roads. These are often driven on, widely used and a matter of course. Nevertheless, we are not happy with it, because whenever we see ourselves as a minority, we recognize how flawed the majority-voting is. Erroneous in the sense of creating discord. And even if we feel we belong to the majority, we see the angry reactions and disappointed faces of the "losers".

"Unanimity symptom"

Unanimity is achieved when the full group apparently consents to a decision. It has disadvantages insofar as further disagreement, improvements or better ideas then remain hidden, but effectively ends the debate moving it to an implementation phase. Some consider all unanimity a form of groupthink, and some experts propose "coding systems...for detecting the illusion of unanimity symptom."


This is what I think systemic consensus achieves through scaling. It is a coding system.

Measurement of systemic consensus (SK)

The SK introduces an assessment scale for the subjective resistance of a person. This traditionally ranges from 0 to 10 resistance votes (“W votes”).

0 W-votes = no resistors
10 W-votes = the proposal is unacceptable to me
Intermediate values are assigned according to feeling


If you were involved in a group choice where you should choose between several given options, you would personally question your least inner resistance. An example. The group should decide which of the activities to consider:

  • climbing the glacier wall
  • white water rafting
  • mountain biking
  • mountain hiking

Beware of your habit!

If you read the proposals, maybe something is happening to you right now: You skim the individual suggestions and already start to decide for your preference. You are inclined to make a quick decision. What, for example, has to do with the fact that you often experienced such rapid exchanges of blows in school. Someone yells a proposal into the room: "Who is for it!?" Hands immediately go up. "Who is against it?!" and everyone wants to push through quickly.

How would you express yourself in a different and more slow way, if you were a part of the group, with what suggestion would you associate the least inner resistance? With which suggestion could you also live quite well and is there one that you can't go along with at all? You make these considerations with this method and assign a number on the scale accordingly.

Note: you go through each proposal individually and always treat it as virgin.

"Climbing in the glacier wall": Where do you put your value? How much abdominal pain or how little does this suggestion do for you on its own?

Nevertheless, we cannot always do without cooperation in advance of the scaling, which, however, offers the prospect of a much more attractive goal and therefore makes the effort and time spent way more enjoyable. Because consensus means that all participants are satisfied with the decision.

If, for example, political work or corporate communication in a company requires human resources and other energies, only so that in the end a decision is made on this matter on the basis of a majoritarian vote, then it often does not even come to that (except in the official elections). For central decisions are already made in advance in the hierarchy, because the leading board knows or suspects that majority voting will make emotions soar and fail the intention to create a good outcome.

Here is a comparison of the two methods:

Full process of consensus

In the source below I found a very good explanation and guidance through the process of laying out the basement for getting to the final consensus. It's grounded on systemic principles, for creativity and resources of the group is being integrated in the process.

The creative process
The full power of the systemic consensus principle unfolds if it is not only used to decide on given solutions as shown before but to use it from the beginning. How this can be done is described in the so called creative process.

  • Step 1: Describe Problem (s)
  • Step 2: Find Interests
  • Step 3: Gather Information
  • Step 4: Phrase Requests for a Good Solution
  • Step 5: Create Solutions
  • Step 6: Find Pros and Cons
  • Step 7: Evaluate Levels of Resistance (Preliminary)
  • Step 8: Explore Remaining Resistances
  • Step 9: Adjust Solutions
  • Step 10: Adjust Pros And Cons
  • Step 11: Evaluate Levels of Resistance (Final)

The final step normally is performed very quickly. Evaluate the group resistance based on the 10-scale.
In some sensible cases – election of a person – better use the “term” acceptance” rather than “resistance” when publishing the result.


I work with scales in almost every client meeting where I get the chance to work in a systemic setting. It saves so much talk, confusion and discussion. From experience I can tell that I get better and quicker results in finding out what the client actually wants and where he builds up hinderances for himself. Even today I can look back onto some fruitful sessions where I used the scaling method next to encouragement, perspective changing and an overall positive attitude of mine towards the clients. Despite the fact that you probably would classify them as really difficult people.

When should one participate in systemic consensus?

Contributors decide for themselves if and how they will take part in a systemic consensus: We don't restrict access to decisions, but value the self-determination of contributors by trusting them to self-select their level of participation in the systemic consensus cycle. In order to figure out how you should participate in a systemic consensus, ask yourself the following;
Do I feel that the outcome will affect me?
Do I feel that I will be accountable for the outcome of the decision?
Do I feel that I will be part of doing the outcome of the decision?
If you answer 'yes!' to...
... none, feel free to witness the process silently or to spend your time somewhere else.
... one, give your needs, wants and values and also your proposals in the consensus cycle.
... two or all, participate in the whole consensus cycle with voting.


The advantage of this kind of self-questioning is that you overcome your insecurity. Many things in life already provoke our resistance through our differing opinions and we give them up to things that are the result of a perceived provocation. Personally, I would like to see an environment (in social media) where I am less inclined to be seduced by judgment, or to find the framework for it, that reveals my best instead of my worst qualities.

Practical examples

The group TransitionHaus Bayreuth decided soon after its foundation to make its decisions with the help of the Systemic Consensus. After a first test it soon became clear that this mechanism is very promising. Everyday practice has shown, however, that the SK principle sometimes feels counterintuitive and somewhat bulky in its application. The group felt that Systemic Consensus places high demands on the moderator and is a very technical way of conducting discussions. It is also difficult to convey the systemic consensus to newcomers.

I can confirm that. In my consulting practice I sometimes find that my kind of questioning and aim for precision and clear answers is perceived as "technical" and "counterintuitive", because people usually prefer to discuss their feelings in length (or, not to discuss them at all). However, I find it enough that every client tells me numerous sentiments simply by their choice of words, gestures and facial expressions, by the speed of their narrative and the obvious desire to be understood. While I have since understood the client through this form of observation, taking his or her sensitivities seriously, the client still can feel misunderstood because he or she has forgotten or never learned to consciously perceive the positive signals of his or her counterpart. Then I work with reassurance to transport my understanding.

... the group organised a Systemic Consensus Seminar, inviting experienced SK trainers ... to train decision-making in a group with them. This seminar was financed by the nationwide support program Democracy Life. The group realized very early on that decision-making in a group of equals is an unfamiliar task and that one should not be afraid to seek outside support.

The common good economy, for example, has been using systemic consensus for years. In Styria (Austria), municipal mergers were ordered by the provincial government in the last legislative period - with a lot of controversy. One of these municipal mergers was carried out by systemic consensus: In just two working days, a draft was produced which was signed by four mayors involved and has now been implemented.


Executives of a company are required to trust their employees to go through the consensus-building process and not to be the ones who have to process considerations all on their own. For people who do not want to give up power and control, this is often not possible or a very difficult exercise. But it is a great opportunity to have an unexpected experience.

Global scale & leadership

The degree of complexity of work in modern societies and the globality of the economy and politics, however, point in a different direction and want to set a new trend. As societies that gain much broader access to knowledge through the Internet, the classic form of hierarchy and decision making is clearly seen as overburdening the leadership levels of politics and economics. Executives are looking for methods that offer something new, apart from the "divide and conquer principle".

Anyone who sees on this eye knows that the relations of countries on a global level need consensus orientation, because the threats are indeed no small thing and we all know how, for example, the nuclear age has shown us that the competition for power plunges everyone into ruin and not "just" a few landmarks are taken by warfare.

Kenneth Arrow received a Nobel prize for proving it is impossible to come up with a decision in a logical, fair, and equitable way by combining the (existing) preferences of a group of people except under very simple circumstances.


Wiki explains:

In social choice theory, Arrow's impossibility theorem, the general possibility theorem or Arrow's paradox is an impossibility theorem stating that when voters have three or more distinct alternatives (options), no ranked voting electoral system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide (complete and transitive) ranking while also meeting a specified set of criteria: unrestricted domain, non-dictatorship, Pareto efficiency, and independence of irrelevant alternatives. The theorem is often cited in discussions of voting theory as it is further interpreted by the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem.

With regard to social media,

I have the impression that we want to be part of a big confirmation and consolation machine, but often we get the opposite of what we hope for. How exactly does the transfer of social media into our private lives happen, where we seek the real experience? The group building that happened and happens here on Steemit is an expression of community will and a supportive mentality. If I had to say precisely what I learned in the course of my presence on this platform, I wouldn't really be able to say exactly what that is. But I'm pretty sure the feedback I've received has given me a lot of valuable insights.

Using the potential (intelligence) of all

I imagine how the groups here could use the method of systemic consensus for themselves to make the decision-making of the many visible in a way that provides guidance and clarity into the - often unconscious and not openly expressed - resistances. Such a method would be helpful for the head office or the management of a group in order to achieve as authentic an expression of the group will as possible. Systemic consensus is one way of relieving the burden on both the leadership level and the many who see themselves as part of the group. I am sure that the systemic consensus has an elevation at the level of meaning of a group and perceives itself as effective and capable of making decisions.

Group dynamics

One fact that I feel is certain is that people behave differently in a group than in a constellation of two. The group dynamics often lead to statements of the individual participants, which interestingly show the opposite of the least internal resistance. Someone who only follows or agrees with the powerful participants of a round because this position of power gives them an advantage in their backwaters. But what is actually thought and felt often falls by the wayside. This is known as opportunism.

Then again there is the feeling of belonging to minorities who no less forcefully want to coerce a decision. If group decisions take place by means of systemic consensus, it is unnecessary to ask afterwards which proposal was favoured, because the group does not need this reinsurance of the certain vote affiliation.

By their very nature, majority decisions promote opportunism, oppositionism and dishonesty. By reversing preference into least resistance, systemic consensus by nature is a method that enables cooperation and authentic consideration of proposals. Insofar as the casting of votes does not take place publicly, but secretly/anonymously, the participants do not come into a compulsive situation to justify themselves and can therefore be more courageous.

Spread the information

The reason why I have asked your support on this topic quite often is not only within the Steemosphere, but gets meaning by trying this procedure and making known where you are, for example, in a professional group situation or a family group situation. Despite the seriousness of the topic, have fun and experiment with the method.

You can also cast your vote for this experiment here at any time and I will evaluate it at some point if there are enough participants. Please, don't see the proposals as set but more of giving a topic which busies the minds on this platform. It's for getting first hand experience and playing with the method in a lively way. Though I would gladly open up a new systemic consensus experiment when you people come up with ideas.

Thank you so much for reading.

Picture sources

Title: By The original uploader was Paul Carpenter at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by MHM-com., CC BY 1.0,

Playmobile: Bild von Hebi B. auf Pixabay

Text sources:

Space Beyond the Liberal Peacebuilding Consensus – A Systemic Perspective - Daniela Körppen;art155371,3775085

It might have happened, just like the story of Michelangelo being congratulated at the unveiling of his immortal David.

“How in God’s name could you have achieved a masterpiece like this from a crude slab of marble?” a fan is supposed to have asked him. “It was easy,” Mike is said to have said. “All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”



So good to see you posting about your field again Erika :D

Your systemic posts have been a source of learning and information for me. I always get excited whenever I identify the parallels between your field and mine. Although, by saying this it seems as if I see them as separate. But, I do not. I see them rather as different branches of the same tree.

The way you discussed groupthink here is enlightening. And highlighting that consensus is not unanimity, but rather: "the satisfaction of all participants with concern to a particular decision" goes straight to the heart of it.

On my branch of the tree, consensus (groupthink) is sometimes attributed to group members being susceptible to wanting to agree on something in order to maintain an image of cohesion. And although this can bring satisfaction to group-members, as it enhances the sense of group identity, it often leads them to abandon possible thought-through proposals/decisions. Something which more often than not results in problems.

One can see how such situations could be avoided through systemic consensus, though. Am I right to conclude that it's because decision making then becomes about the issue itself, and not about an individual's position in the group?

Big hug from Portugal! :*

Thank you for your visit. Lovely to have you here.

Yes, it's quite a while ago :)

I am glad to hear that the systemic related posts were a good source for you. I sometimes think it all sinks into the basement of the Steemosphere and so it's good to hear your feedback.

Oh :) yes, we are all children of the same tree - Our professions are closer to each other than those of a truck driver.

I vividly remember my group during my education. We had a lot of troubles! Laughter. Yes, it brings a sense of identity and cohesion but I agree it also causes a lot of conflicts. Often remain unsolved.

Yes, I would say that you are right in concluding that systemic consensus decision making is more about the issues and less about the individuals position. Though funnily it's exactly the individuals position which gets a chance to be honestly expressed. But while in majority voting its all about "Me first/on top" in systemic consensus all individuals know that every one else will make his choice on a much more authentic base. Isn't that wonderful. :)

Oh, what I forgot to ask: would this method be something for your working/social environment? I ask, because I would like to know if anyone who thinks this method could help, would give it a practical try in the groups he encounters in daily life.


Thanks a lot for this comprehensive review. After thinking deeply about it, this is similar how I am personally making my choice at elections. We have dozens of candidates/parties and we need to select one. Of course, the best candidate agreeing with all my desires does not exist (and this is probably the case for everybody else). Mentally, I check all the items that are important to me and see how close or far the different candidates are. The candidate with the largest overlap wins my vote.

Whilst this may not be systemic stricto sensu, this is close enough, I think. Do you agree?

Anyways, I am wondering about the final results of the experiment... I hope you will report them here at some point. (I didn't check recently.)

Thank you for stopping by and giving some thought to the topic.

To your described way of political choices. No, it doesn't come close to systemic decision-making, I'm afraid :)
The systemic consensus is not based on the candidate who, for example, represents a party program that comes closest to your wishes, since you are still "forced" to vote according to your preference. Systemic consensus is not about your preference or the greatest overlap with your preference. The method aims at proposals that represent your least inner resistance. If your ballot paper were a topic, such as some referendums in Switzerland, and if the referendum on the topic did not expect a "yes" or "no" answer from you, but a scaling statement in numbers, then it would be an election on the principle of systemic consensus.

The method responds to your human need to weigh more than one option, because you could live well with other options. If you choose between ice cream, cake, biscuits or pudding, it often happens that you accept two, three or even four of the suggestions, if not as your favorite food, as an acceptable candy that doesn't make you spit out right away. But it always gives you the chance to reject something completely. There is space between "here I feel zero resistance" and "here I have the greatest resistance".

For example, what do you do when you decide where you want to live with your family, if you have to move for professional reasons? You don't necessarily decide according to your own selfish preferences, if you could safely assume that the rest of your family would also decide according to their least inner resistance, you would be able to say goodbye to your burning favorite choice as long as the result doesn't reflect your greatest resistance.

Maybe you try this method on your work when you have difficult group decisions to make? I would be so excited about real results!

To me, the greatest overlap can be seen as the least resistance as well, can't it be? I am still unsure to really fully get the difference. At the end of the day, I will make one single choice but I will choose the one with the least resistance (or the maximal overlap) with me. Or maybe, the difference lies in the fact that in the systemic system, one doesn't choose, but give one's resistance score to all options. Did I get it?

For the living place choice, we actually used something similar to my voting decision making strategy. We defined a set of criteria and converged on the place that had the maximum overlap with all requirements. At the end of the day, this may not be systemic as well.

Maybe you try this method on your work when you have difficult group decisions to make? I would be so excited about real results!

We are working in small collaborations of 3-5 people. We never arrived at making any difficult decisions. We usually end with a consensus on what to do and who does what, and we just follow all options without choosing :)

the difference lies in the fact that in the systemic system, one doesn't choose, but give one's resistance score to all options. Did I get it?

Yes! You got it :)

Good for your working team that you find consensus. Happy to hear that. If you may ever come into a situation where this formal method could be of use, I hope, you'll remember it.

I am about to present the concept in my work environment. I am curious about the outcome. The team will give feedback if they are interested in a presentation.

Have a good day:)

Please let us know how it will be perceived. I am quite curious!

Well, I thought, wonder what Erika is up to? And here you are! I feel so comfortable with this discussion now. I've participated in a number of your exercises and am so glad to see you getting a good response.

This is such a worthy, sensible idea--and so unlike the way most people are used to approaching group decisions. That's the hard part. The easy part is, it works.

Who knows? People might actually take the time to change their ways. We can always hope.

Hope autumn is treating you well.

With Affection,

Your NY (and sometimes conflict-ridden) friend

Thank you for the further encouragement :)
I thought it was time to put the topic under the scientific umbrella. It deserves it.

From what I think it's that globally we don't have any other chance than to come up with better ideas on co-working and dealing with what we see as modern citizens is an issue in leadership. Those who deal with leadership in large companies or work scientifically on the impact of social media know that large groups can have an enormous impact on the reputation of political parties and companies. I think it would be good if drivers and decision-makers could see that citizens are able to organise themselves sensibly and to live by consensus. We must never underestimate the exemplary role of citizens in politics and entrepreneurship.

What is needed are numerous best-practice examples that at some point will also attract the attention of those who have the say in the political and economic environment. I am thinking more of decades than of changes in the near future.

Welcome your conflicts! :) They are always a chance.

I try to live by my own advice, though I know it's really an unusual idea to do so and I need to watch my habits.

Here: take my hug! :))
Yours E.

I'm so glad you did!
I go by one theory: Maybe your effort will yield no results. However, one thing is certain, if you don't try, you certainly won't get results.

I'm a little like you--I just keep plugging. You never know. Change may actually happen. I think you and I belong to the army of the determined... that's a good army:)

Looking forward to your next blog. Always an adventure, always a unique experience.

With affection and respect,
Your friend across the sea,


Yes, you are probably right, but I agree: no trial, no results.

I just got a recommendation to blog on "medium". My man already mentioned it and now also @yapcat, so I may give it a try. Don't know yet. It can be that I'll leave this blog more abandoned, if not fully then just occasionally write something. I am not sure whether that will function as Steemit seems only to work for the single user when you constantly are present.

The two of us will not lose each other, no?

Sending you kisses!
Your friend E.

Never lose each other. That would be terrible. I think I am agile enough to try both sites. Certainly, I have the time and imagination. I do enjoy Steemit, especially SteemSTEM, very much. Whenever you post here, please alert me, because I do not have automatic notification and I don't want to miss.
Be well, dear friend.
Much affection from New York, at least my corner of it

Great article. However, I spotted one mistake in it:

In Styria (Germany), municipal mergers were ordered by the provincial government [...]

As someone who was born and raised in Styria, I can assure you that it is located in Austria, not Germany :)

Thank you! I am going to correct that.

This problem has been solved,

Click to watch 4 minutes,

Maybe my condition today is not the best. But I can't follow that film. I maybe will watch it another day. Thanks anyway though I don't know how this relates to systemic consensus?

Thanks for the feedback!

This system, "unanimous ai" has found a way to combine the intelligence of individuals. The results are vastly superior to mere voting.

For example, by polling 10 horse racing hobbyists, they were able to predict the top 4 winners of the Kentucky Derby in-order. Where the "smartest" person in the group only predicted the top 2 winners and a vote would have only predicted the first-place winner.

May I ask you, have you ever tried the self-test of the systemic consensus? So, between the given variants of

  • skiing,
  • skateboarding,
  • cycling,
  • swimming
  • hiking,

do you proceed in such a way that you choose each of the activities on its own, on the basis of your least inner resistance in giving your each score between 0 and 10?

In principle I have nothing against AI helpers, but because man is vain and this vanity is a (rather annoying) fact in the world, he wants to keep the feeling that he can make decisions even with people among people. I would just like to ask you to try it out for a short time on yourself or in your circle of friends or family, if, for example, you cannot find a quick agreement on a question (which produces relatively simple suggestions).

This little self-experiment should suffice for that long. I would like to know whether you would recommend it to others once you know it?

It sounds like RCV (Ranked Choice Voting) -

No, it is the exact opposite of a preferential choice. With systemic consensus, you don't go for what you consider your favourite from several possibilities. You determine your resistance to every statement available for election. The proposal that expresses the least resistance in a number of all voters wins the election.

If Hans is the person from a class representative election to whom the whole class has the least resistance, then Hans wins the election. Which can actually be quite different from voting for only one of the favoured candidates.

Here is a comparison of the two methods:

Your "least resistance" example looks like RCV, but your "majority voting" example is NOT RCV.

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