Minority Rule—insisting on unanimous consent is often unnecessary and even detrimental

Cartoonstock.com: Board meeting where chairman is manually lifting everyone's hand with ropes and saying, "Excellent—It's unanimous!"

Years ago I served a church that was searching for a senior pastor. Eleven people were on the search committee. In their first meeting, someone must have suggested that their final decision be unanimous—to call a new pastor, all eleven members must be in agreement. (A scripture verse might have been used to support this position, “That they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21).

After months of prayer, and multiple interviews, ten members of the committee were convinced that one particular candidate was the right person for the job. One person dissented. Because of their commitment to act unanimously, the will of one person prevailed over the preference of ten people. It happened again; the same person dissenting overruled the will of the vast majority.

This predicament is called minority rule and it’s an unwise practice.

Every team or committee should be composed of vigorous-thinking individuals who are striving to make good decisions. Everyone should have a voice and a vote, but one person should not be given the power to overrule the opinion of others. It might be reasonable to say that 70% of the group must be in agreement, but to set the bar at 100% is unnecessary and can be detrimental. There’s nothing wrong with a split decision. 

A split decision may even validate that the right decision was made because it implies that critical dialogue was pursued and multiple perspectives were considered. While a unanimous decision may indicate that the decision is simple and the best answer is obvious, or that everyone genuinely agrees, it can also indicate that the group is not taking the decision seriously, all variables have not been explored, or that some members may be intimidated by the arguments of those who are more demonstrative and verbal.

What do you think?

22 Replies to “Minority Rule—insisting on unanimous consent is often unnecessary and even detrimental”

  1. I appreciate your thoughts, especially your last paragraph. I’m a pastor, and while there are certain decisions that need to be made where, as you suggest, 70% agreement may be an appropriate goal, there is value in a close vote that most don’t see.

    In our church body, it’s understood when deciding which pastor to call to serve the church that whatever the outcome, after the decision is made, the vote is made unanimous to show the man they call that the whole congregation supports having him as pastor, even if they didn’t all vote for him.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks, Peter, for taking the time to respond. Your last paragraph is interesting, asking dissenting votes to vote again, or just announcing that it is unanimous? Take care, Don

  2. There are times in a unanimous process that an individual may also feel compelled to go along with the majority out of concern for various reasons (guilt, pressure, etc.).

    While every team wishes that all votes could be unanimous, it is just not practical. In your example, the one individual should have clearly articulated why they voted “no” and then the group should have been able to determine if it was a valid reason.

    But, to your point, unanimous are very hard to come by, even with the Holy Spirit leading the way in a pastor selection. No impossible, but humans and our sin nature get in the way.

    1. Thanks, Scott, for taking the time to respond. Good idea about probing why the one person dissented. But I think the policy was already in place. Should the committee have changed the policy? Take care, Don.

  3. I will guarantee you in the example you used the people attending the church with the new senior pastor will not be unanimous agreement the right choice was made. A group decision is usually better than one person thinking through and making the choice.

    Therefore one should not be a single overriding control over the group.

    1. Thanks, Michael, for taking the time to respond. You’re right about a group decision being better than one from an individual. I wish I had learned that early in my career. Take care, Don

  4. Out of many possible comments which come to mind very quickly, the first is that of course the person who kept voting against the vote of the other 10 was probably the one who wanted that stipulation in the first place.

    You don’t have to know much world history to know how dictatorships come to be.

    David Ware

    1. Thanks, David, for taking the time to respond. I had not thought about how the mind and strategy of a dictator fits into this discussion, but it does. Take care, Don

  5. One of my favorite pieces of insight here Don and I love the examples provided. It reminds me of General Patton’s quote: “If we are all thinking the same, then no one is really thinking.”

  6. I think it may at times be human to hope (hope) for a 100% consensus, but that often is neither realistic nor actually desired, as yes, it can stifle perspective. And a differing perspective may provide some incentive for the members or candidate to consider other things that could ultimately be helpful. So, I liked your ending paragraph. I also think it warrants a general caution when excerpting Bible verses in different contexts.

  7. I once served as the jury foreman on a six person jury.
    The case related to illegal handgun possession.
    One juror caused a hung jury and no verdict because he said he didn’t care what the evidence said one way or the other he believed the old black man accused of carrying a gun illegally was being railroaded.
    He would listen to no arguments to the contrary.
    Eventually I sent a message to the judge asking if we had to be completely unanimous.
    The answer was yes,
    so I replied,
    then we are a hung jury.
    The irony is the old man had the gun in his possession for a good reason – his guilt was ignorance not felony and he didn’t deserve a misdemeanor sentence. But that one person on the jury who had a lot of personal things and his life warping his judgment,
    which was very wrong
    derailed the legal system.
    Had we convicted the old black man for gun possession we would have recommended to the judge that he receive not just probation but to dismiss the charge if that were in our power.
    But we never got that far because of that one person who used the unanimous necessity leverage to negate our legal system.

    David Ware

  8. I submit that unanimous decisions can cause problems and I can think of many situations where it would be destructive.
    I would, however, agree with a unanimous decision of “not guilty” if I was the defendant on trial for a crime I didn’t commit.
    Sorry, but I can’t help but inject some humor in my responses.
    Used to do stand up comedy in my younger days.

  9. Fully agree! In Christian circles, sometimes “the one” may state that “ God has revealed to me… and therefore, God’s message trumps any dissenting votes.” The answer, I think, is still the same as you suggest… God revealed “something” to every person voting. 100% unanimous decision is not good stewardship.

    1. Thanks, Ron, for sharing your thoughts. I, too, have a problem with someone saying “God told me…” when it’s an issue that affects many people and/or multiple people are tasked with making a decision. Take care, Don

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