The Myth of Consensus


One of the mistakes I’ve fallen into in the past is assuming that consensus among the members is a vital part of leading a guild.

The question is this: on the whole, do guild members want to be involved in the decision making process?  I want to say the answer is yes, but experience says that I’ve got it wrong.

This is not to say that people don’t care about change, or that they don’t want to be told about changes.  It just seems that people don’t get as invested in the hows of guild leadership as I wish they would.

This started me thinking about whether consensus building is a good idea in a guild or not.

In my ideal world (pink skies and all), any major change under consideration would get posted on a forum, discussion invited, a poll put up for several days, and changes made or not based upon the results of the poll.  When I’ve attempted to do this in other guilds, the response has been somewhat less than spectacular.  If you don’t poke and prod people to vote, you’ll only get 20% of your membership taking part.  If you do poke and prod, people tend to vote but not offer any discussion or modification to the proposal.  They’re voting just so you’ll stop asking them to vote.

So, if people aren’t driven to take part, why even offer them the chance?

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that a guild be run as if it were a dictatorship.  I feel as much as ever that transparency is the hallmark of a well-run guild.  What I’m questioning is the level of participation and buy-in that a guild leader should attempt to get from the members before making a policy change or doing something that impacts the guild.

When you elect a politician to represent you, you don’t expect them to call you up and ask your opinion on every upcoming vote, do you?  You expect them to make decisions based upon the platform they presented in order to earn your vote.  Granted, this is the pink-sky version of politics, but the point stands.

Not going directly to the electorate for every decision is in no smaller part an issue of scale.  Even in a medium-sized city, one representative is responsible for thousands if not tens of thousands of constituents.  You can’t go calling everyone up every day in order to determine how to cast your vote.  In a smaller organization, this limitation doesn’t exist.  Since we can ask everyone their thoughts on every manner via a bulletin board, guild chat or forum, we should, shouldn’t we?

No, we shouldn’t.

If you’re a guild leader, you have been elected, in a manner of speaking.  Even if you weren’t actually voted into your role, people chose to be in the guild and to stay with you as leader.  You can assume that there’s a basic  level of trust present.

Just make decisions.  Reasonable decisions to be sure, ones which reflect both the ethos of the guild and your vision for the guild’s future.  Be consistent.  Be prepared to justify your decisions.  When a decision is made, make sure that the users know about it.  I prefer a dedicated “policy” forum for members who are interested to look at.  For small decisions, just post that the decision has been made and update any other relevant information (policies, charters, etc.)  For larger decisions, post what’s going to happen and let members know that in the absence of strong dissent, the change will be effective in 5 or 10 days.

Finally, decide how large a change has to be to warrant actual consensus gathering.  Examples of this might include guild mergers, folding a failing guild, selection of a new GM if one quits, and so on.  For something of that magnitude, run a poll.  Make the poll binding, and give people plenty of time to get involved and have their voice heard.

Be transparent and be consistent, and your members will thank you for doing the job that they “elected” you to do without calling them up every single day to ask their opinion.