Concordance Decision-Making

Will Schutz, PhD

Reprinted with permission--Module Q in Wellness for Helping Professionals © 1990, Meryn G. Callander

In the fifties Will taught psychology at Harvard, developing the FIRO instruments which are still widely used in the field of psychological testing. He helped shape the human potential movement at Esalen in the sixties.

In the seventies he founded the Holistic Studies masters degree program at Antioch College--West, implemented by its students using concordance decision-making.

In the eighties he put his belief in the power and practicality of truth telling and concordance to the test by taking these ideas into the business community (who knows what he'll do in the nineties).

The Human Element (THE) is the name of a five-day seminar (and also advanced levels) designed to teach people how to use concordance decision-making in managing businesses. It has been used successfully in the US military, hospitals, and a variety of Fortune 500 companies.

For more on Will's work see Modules B, E, & F and Part III in Wellness for Helping Professionals

Decision-Making Methods

Of the commonly used approaches to organizational decision-making, probably the most popular is authoritarian. In this mode, one vote--the boss's--determines the decisions. The preferred method on most boards, committees, and democratic bodies is majority, the vote of more than half. In participative management, which has become more popular in the past few decades, all are invited to give input to one person or to a group, and that person or group makes the final decision. From the point of view of The Human Element, none of these methods is completely satisfactory.


The decision-making technique that comes closest to making maximum use of the virtues of The Human Element approach is called consensus. Of the most widely used decision-making methods, this process takes greatest advantage of both individual empowerment and team compatibility.

However, so many different methods have been given the name consensus that it is wise to use a new name, precisely defined, for the method that follows from empowering each member of a team or organization, teaching them to work effectively together, and creating an open atmosphere.

The aim of this decision-making method is to provide a structure for using the creativity and logic of each of us and for making maximum use of our ability to speak honestly to each other. This method encourages us to stimulate each other to arrive at solutions that none of us may have thought of alone.

We will call it concordance decision-making.


Concordance is defined as agreement, concord, harmony. "Concord" means "agreement among persons; concurrence in attitudes, feelings, etc."

Decision-Making Criteria

Inclusion Criterion

Members of a concordance team include those people most qualified to make the decisions and those people most affected by the decisions.

The coach of a California high school football team was about to commit a cardinal sin. According to the ideal model, a football coach is in complete charge of his team. This coach was about to let the players themselves determine the starting lineup each week! "They have been bashing into each other all week," he reasoned, "they know, probably better than I, who is playing well." The outraged criticism of his fellow coaches was gradually stilled as his team won 33 consecutive games.

Different subgroups of team members are usually designated by the team to make decisions, depending on the type of decisions made.

A team decided to delegate the monthly financial statement to the accountant and the financial manager. That group of two was empowered by the team to make the team's financial report. However, the issue of salaries was decided by the group as a whole.

If I am qualified to be a team member and I do not wish to be included in the decision-making, I am asked to agree to carry out all decisions made by the remaining group members. If I agree, the team proceeds as before. This retains the concordance quality of the decision. I have the option of rejoining the group at any time, provided that I qualify for team membership as stated above.

One technician objected to the use of concordance in his plant. "I work to make a living," he said. "I just want you to tell me what to do and I will do it well. I don't want the responsibility of making decisions. I do that at home with my family." When the group asked him if he would be willing to go along with decisions they made, he had no objection. "I've been doing that all along. Why change now?"As time went on, he became curious about the group's activities and gradually began sliding his way in.

A first step toward determining team membership is to ask, "Who cares about this decision?" Those who care are usually the people who are most appropriate to make the decision. One caution is to ensure that those most qualified also "care."

Since every person has a veto, I cannot be overrun by the other team members, as I could be if we use any of the other decision-making methods. Anyone can say NO and prevent action. This feature lessens the possibility of the group taking overly dangerous actions. Sometimes I, as the highest ranking and most experienced member of the team, feel that a certain course of action would be foolhardy. I can prevent it with a NO.

If, as the supervisor, I decide to use the concordance method for my decisions, I do not lose power. The group cannot force me to make decisions I do not like. The concordance method elevates others up to my level of authority, it does not reduce mine.

The decisions the team can make are those that the highest-ranking member of the team could make before the concordance method was adopted.

Control Criterion

A key difference between the concordance method and most other methods, including participative management, is that the final decision is made by the whole team.

I, like any member, have power in the sense that the group cannot make a decision without my agreement. Everyone has a veto. Everyone must agree with the decision before it is final.

In the previous example, the team delegated its financial statement to a subgroup of two. That means the subgroup's product was endorsed by the whole team. It is the team's financial statement. If the team does not like the process or the outcome of the work of the delegated group, it may change either at any time, provided the change is made through a concordance decision arrived at by all members of the team, including the accountant and financial officer.

Members may surrender control for any or all decisions. That is their choice. They may decide they are not knowledgeable in a given area, or they may simply not care, and so give their control to others.

Openness Criterion

Probably the chief characteristic of the concordance method which distinguishes it from others is the requirement that we all be totally open.

Openness has two parts:

Honesty. My willingness to say what I think and how I feel about an issue.

Awareness. Knowing my real feelings about the issue, the other team members, my relation to them, and myself.

A concordance group is characterized by total commitment to honesty and an unending quest to gain more self-awareness. Our quest takes the form of increasing self-knowledge and using each other to determine when a person is self-deceptive. The YES method described on page 71 illustrates a technique whereby we can check each other to ensure that all members are expressing their full feelings.

Deliberately not being honest is simply lying, even if euphemisms are used, such as "misleading," "disinformation," "shading the truth," "less than candid," "not forthcoming," or "I don't have a specific memory of that."

Openness means not withholding. To not say something relevant is as much a violation of the openness principle as is deliberately lying. It is also a lie, a "withholding lie."

The CEO of an airline called a staff meeting to announce a major decision. Everyone on his staff was astonished at the decision, knowing it would lead to disaster for the company. It was clear to them that the CEO was making his decision to cover the embarrassment resulting from an error he had made earlier. Frank felt very loyal to the company and was about to raise the obvious objection when he glanced across the room at his supervisor. "No,no" he nodded silently. Since the CEO did not like to be disagreed with, Frank's supervisor was fearful that his own job and Frank's job were in jeopardy. The decision went through and the result was disastrous. The group had within it, the knowledge and judgment to avoid the disaster. Lack of openness was the basic problem.


Criteria for defining methods of decision-making are:

Inclusion. Each decision is made by those people most qualified to make the decision, and those most affected by the decision--in other words, who knows and who cares.

Control. All members have equal voting power, and veto power on every decision. Everyone must agree with the decision before it is final.

Openness. All members express themselves openly, meaning: not lying, not withholding, and, to the best of their awareness, not deceiving themselves.

Criteria for Classification

All decision-making methods may be defined in terms of the presence or absence of these characteristics. The resulting framework provides a convenient way to compare and test various methods. In the table below, "Not" means that the method of decision-making described does not require the criterion for inclusion or control or openness, as specified.

Openness Criterion Not Required

When a team meets the Inclusion and Control criteria but is not Open, it is like many consensus groups. In such a group, I am reluctant to speak out either for fear of losing my job, not wanting to be disliked, or not wanting to be the one who holds up the group.

Another example is a group where the focus is on task behavior only and where feelings are not dealt with, such as many quality circles.

Control Criterion Not Required

A team that meets the Inclusion and Openness criteria but not the Control criterion, is a successful participative management group. Everyone is included and all may express their feelings openly, but the decision is made by one person or a subgroup within the team.

This pattern could apply to an authoritarian manager or a benevolent dictator who encourages input from team members but makes the final decisions.

A majority group is another example. Since I have equal power but not veto power, if I am in the minority my opinion may be ignored.

Inclusion Criterion Not Required

A group meeting the Control and Openness criteria but not the Inclusion criterion is exemplified by a paternalistic group--a consensus team that makes decisions for other people. A team of managers who decide bonuses for their employees by consensus is an example of a group that does not meet the Inclusion criterion.


Concordance decision-making requires all three criteria--inclusion, control, openness.

Decision-Making Methods

Not Inclusion


Not Control
Not Openness



Not Control

Individual Lobbying

Participative Management

Not Openness

Pseudo-New Age





Characteristics of Concordance

Acknowledge Feelings

Another essential characteristic of the concordance process is that everyone's feelings are acknowledged. The majority method counts our opinions only in its final decisions although it allows us to express our feelings prior to the vote. Concordance, however, includes feelings in its final vote. If someone in the opinion minority feels strongly about the subject, we continue the discussion.

Acknowledgement of feelings is what makes the concordance method work. If I disagree with the majority and I feel they do not understand my position or how strongly I feel about it, I am reluctant to go along. However, after I have expressed my opinion, described the basis for it, and told you how important it is to me, if you still want to take another direction then I am more likely to consider your position, and how strongly you feel about it.

If, for example, I am part of a minority opposing a merger, concordance calls for the following:

1. Minority members express their feelings about the merger.

2. Majority members acknowledge these feelings, express their own feelings, and have them acknowledged.

3. Each side is aware not only of the vote of each member, but also of why and how strongly we each feel.

No matter what the outcome, concordance allows everyone's feelings and thoughts to be considered. For example, suppose that, even after everyone's feelings have been heard and understood, the majority wants the merger. Then, for the sake of making a move for the company, we would agree to the merger. Or, suppose the majority feels that since we feel so strongly against the merger, it would be prudent to postpone a decision until later. In either case, both the thoughts and the feelings of all of us are considered.

The YES Method

When a decision is about to be reached, it is not necessarily a concordance when I say, "Does anyone disagree?" and no one responds. It may be that some of us do not feel comfortable expressing disagreement, especially if an open atmosphere has not been created.

One technique for optimizing full participation--and therefore creating a true concordance--is this:

When the decision is about to be made, I ask each person to say the word YES or the word NO. If anyone says anything other than the word YES, I assume they mean NO. People who feel reluctant to oppose the group often will not say NO directly but will resist and implicitly express their reluctance by saying "Yeah," "Sure," "OK," "Go ahead," "Um-hum," or something similar. Sometimes even a hesitant YES means NO. Encouraging such people to state their full feelings leads to a truer concordance.

When we seem to understand where everyone stands on the issue, we phrase the question (usually in written form) and ask everyone to say the word YES if they agree or the word NO if they disagree. We complete the circle. If we are not in total agreement--we have not all said the word YES--we continue the discussion until we either come to complete agreement or decide to postpone the decision.


One of the first decisions most concordance groups make is to decide which decisions will be made in what ways. It usually takes too much time away from individual work if everyone has to contribute to every decision. Typically, groups decide who is best qualified to make what decisions and then deputize them to do it. Some decisions are best made through concordance; some are advisory to one person who is empowered by the group to decide; some decisions, such as carrying out policy, may be made best by one person. It takes experience to finally settle on the best way to allocate tasks. Varying methods to fit different conditions leads to the best solutions. The group, however, remains the final decision maker, even about who is to make which decisions.

Harold introduced the concordance method for decision-making for the research project he was directing. The 15 members of the project agreed to use this method, but the following week they complained, "How can we do our work when you interrupt us all day to make decisions?" The group decided to deputize three statisticians to make all statistical decisions, which would then be accepted by the whole group. The group also decided that Harold would determine who would do which task since he had the best overall view of the project. The following week, Dave complained "Harold, you gave Albert the demographic job and he kept asking me how to do it. You should have given it to me." Thus the group continued to decide, as a whole, the best person, persons, or total group to make each type of decision. Any method could be used if the group felt it was most appropriate. If that method did not work, the group would change it. The group, therefore, used the most appropriate decision-making methods to make each type of decision. Any method--authoritarian, majority, or participatory--is concordance if all members agree to it.


Any decision-making method may be used within the concordance decision-making process.

If we all agree to form an authoritarian structure, that is concordance. If we decide to solve certain issues by concordance and to delegate certain members to decide other decisions alone, that is concordance. Anything we decide by concordance is concordance. We may even choose to abandon the concordance model.

Concordance simplifies the process of achieving the ideal administrative goal: the organization functions so that each decision is made by those people best qualified to make that decision and by those who are most affected by it.


Concordance is often seen as unwieldy for a large corporation. "We can't gather hundreds or thousands of employees together every time we want to make a decision." That is, of course, true. However, the members of the concordance group are aware of this; therefore they create a practical procedure to deal with the situation. The most common technique is to divide the organization into tiers. Those on the bottom (the whole group) designate people to represent them at the next higher level. That group selects people to represent them on the next level, and so on. Concordance decisions are then made at the top level and passed down. At any time, the group as a whole may revise the system. One assumption underlying concordance is that the group as a whole has more resources than any one individual or subgroup.


Concordance usually takes longer at the beginning than methods less demanding of agreement, such as authoritarian. However as we become accustomed to using the technique, discussions become briefer. Over time, we become very quick.

When an open atmosphere is created, we may use the method, "Does anyone disagree?" since we are now certain that people will feel free to object. This device is one reason why our decisions are reached faster.

Although decisions made by concordance sometimes take longer to make than autocratic decisions, they are almost always implemented more efficiently because we who are to carry out decisions have participated in the decision-making process and feel motivated to follow through.

Concordance deals with blocks during the discussion phase rather than during implementation. This has an interesting effect on the speed of decisions.

Here is the observation of a project manager in a manufacturing plant.

My first inclination was that concordance was fine for most decisions, but probably not for the highly controversial issues where I'm certain not everyone would agree on any solution. What do we do about those who would block concordance in these situations?

What has become clear to me is that it is precisely in these situations that concordance decision-making becomes especially appropriate. In the tough, conflicted issues, I now have concordance decision-making to deal directly with differences in facts, perceptions, opinions, and feelings.

Where before all the blocking took place in the implementation phase in the form of hard-to-identify sabotage, now the block is right in the middle of the group, to be stated, heard, internalized, and valued.

No decision is implemented until all blocks have been incorporated into the solution. So in a very real way these stumbling blocks become building blocks.

The overall time and effort from problem identification to successful solution implementation is greatly reduced. In my opinion, most solutions arrived at by authoritarian decisions in conflicted issues are never fully implemented.


Concordance capitalizes on the empowerment of each member by creating a structure in which the full creativity and skill of each person may be used optimally.

There is little point to creating an organizational atmosphere in which we employees are inspired and encouraged to express our ideas and then setting up a decision-making structure in which our participation is suppressed or discouraged. Soon we lose our desire to contribute. It is well established that the more participatory and influential we are, the more likely we are to be highly motivated. The method of participative management also encourages participation, but if I repeatedly offer ideas and they are not accepted, I may feel disappointed and lose enthusiasm for participative management.

A computer company was planning a new building in California to house a supercomputer. Headquarters in Washington sent them a plan for the the interior design of the building. An uproar followed. The Washington plan would have forced them to work in spaces they felt were uncomfortable and inefficient. Hence, before the building was built, there was already animosity and anger. The input of the people who would work there and who knew most about how the space would be used was being ignored. With a concordance solution, the Washington office would have provided the budget, and let the future workers plan the space. Their creativity and experience would then be made use of and the design would be more readily accepted.


Concordance decisions are almost invariably more creative. The concordance method elicits greater participation from each of us, therefore, a wider variety of potential solutions are considered and evaluated. Further, there is stimulation of new and more thoughtful decisions through hearing each other and building on each other's ideas.

A hospital in the Midwest was hit by an "economic downturn" and its filled beds reduced from 300 to 200. It appeared that the hospital would have to reduce its staff by 100 employees by June 1. Before taking that drastic step, they decided to involve their employees in a concordance process. Department heads divided the budget, and the members of each department then decided how to allocate their department budget.

Immediately, creative ideas emerged. Two people wanted to job share and spend more time at home. Several others wanted early retirement. Some had been wanting for a long time to be half-time consultants. The laboratory found a new supplier who was less expensive, and used the savings for salaries. One group of seven wanted to quit, become outside consultants, and sell their services back to the hospital at a lower cost.

After these ideas were explored, June 1 arrived--and no one had to be let go! The creativity of the employees' solutions was far beyond that of the administration.


The decisions of the team are the decisions of the highest ranking member of the team. If the team wants to make a concordant decision at a higher level they must include the higher level person in the concordance process.


Concordance usually leads directly to mutual understanding and cooperation. If I am open with my feelings and take account of the feelings of the other members of my organization before decisions are made, cooperation typically follows.

Conflict follows from lying, withholding, and lack of openness. Openness leads to a desire to cooperate.

Follow Through

Sometimes concordance decisions lead to such elation we fail to assure that the decision gets executed. We should remember to give careful attention to follow-through, perhaps appointing someone to carry out each decision.


Discussions in concordance are aimed at everyone winning as opposed to having a winner or a loser.

During the course of the discussion feedback is given to each person. Feedback may be looked upon as a gift. I now know how certain people react to me. Thus I learn more about myself, and the feedback process usually brings me closer to the other people in the team.


Here are some frequently expressed fears, and responses, about concordance.

I'll be steamrollered."

Fear. As a boss, I am afraid the group will overrun me and do something I know will be disastrous to the organization, and I will be helpless.

Reality. This fear is groundless since, in the concordance model, I, along with everyone else, always have a veto. I can always prevent what I regard as disastrous.

"The others are too immature."

Fear. I feel some people under me are not smart enough or mature enough or care enough to make sensible decisions.

Reality. When I let go of that fear and treat everyone as if they are capable, I usually find they are more able than I had imagined and the increased responsibility of being a member of a decision-making group increases their concern for group goals.

"Nobody's accountable."

Fear. If I, the group leader, decide to involve the group in a concordance process, sometimes my superiors (for example, a board of directors) feel I am surrendering power, I am no longer "accountable," and they must now deal with a "committee."

Reality. When I choose to make a concordance decision, I am just as accountable as when I use the authoritarian method. When I use concordance, I am saying the concordance decisions are my decisions. I take full responsibility for them, just as if I had made them all alone.

"I don't want to jump in too fast."

Fear. Out of my uncertainty I, as the leader, may decide to create a concordance model for "most decisions"--and I will decide which ones.

Reality. The fact that I hold back the power to change even one decision typically leads to a feeling of potential futility on the part of the others, since they never know which decision that may be. If I am unsure, it is better for me to make clear I want advisors only, until I am ready to create a true concordance model.

Fear. To avoid the possibility of endless discussion, I make the rule: "I will use concordance, but if we cannot agree by a certain time, I will decide."

Reality. In this case, all I have to do to enforce any decision is to block the group decision. This reservation, like the one above, vitiates the concordance process. If I have this type of reservation, it is better not to even begin a concordance process

"It's just another company ploy."

Fear. When I am elevated from being a member taking orders to being a member with an equal say in a concordance group, I am often skeptical. "Here's this week's game. Everybody knows they are going to do what they want regardless of what we say."

Reality. That distrust is alleviated only when I experience the process for a while and find that concordance decisions do, in fact, prevail.

"I'm not hired to make decisions."

Fear. As a subordinate, I am not sure I am capable of making, or that I desire to make, decisions. I do not want the responsibility of being part of a concordance decision-making team.

Reality. I am perfectly free to withdraw within concordance. I may simply give my support to every decision the rest of the group makes. However, I may find that after observing for a while, I start participating more than I thought I would.

"I've worked hard to reach my position. Why should I give up my power?"

Fear. As the group leader, when I give up my power as the formal leader and become simply a member of the concordance team, I must confront the issue of changing from role power to personal power. In role power, people do what I say because of my superior role. Personal power is acquired only when people are influenced by me and my ideas, and follow me for that reason.

Reality. I must deal with my own insecurities about my personal power before agreeing to follow concordance.

"I will be too influential."

Fear. If I, the supervisor, participate as a member of a concordance process, my influence will overwhelm the others because of my role. Therefore, they will not be open, therefore, I had better stay out.

Reality. If this process proceeds and I really want concordance, the issue of coercion must be discussed openly. The usual result is that coercion diminishes if it can be talked about. If I absent myself from the group, it lacks an important and unique input--mine, and the quality of the decision is thereby diminished.

Considerations Before Start Up

There are specific issues to consider before starting a concordance group, depending on its antecedents.

New Group

If a group is begun by a number of people coming together for a common purpose for the first time, it may begin with concordance.

A manufacturing company set up a new product group based on concordance. They assembled enough people to fulfill all necessary roles and began. All persons--managers, technicians, mechanics--formed a group based on concordance. In a company where the average startup time for a new product was 22 months, this group completed its startup in 4 months, saving an estimated $9 million for the company.

Established Group

To turn over leadership of a group with a history of using an authoritarian or other non-concordance method to a concordance process requires a prior period of education. The group taking over should know what concordance is, and be willing to take responsibility for participating in such a group. If any individual does not choose to participate, they may be asked if they are willing to abide by the decisions of the group. If they are, they may be considered potential members if they should change their minds. As the leader, I must examine my own self-concept and make sure I am willing to exchange my role power for personal power and influence. Once these factors are satisfactory, we all proceed to work out a transition plan. This applies equally to a large organization that wants to convert to concordance. A period of education, testing, exploring concordance, and consultations from experts are all desirable. The transition plan may then be the first concordance decision for the whole group.


If I have an idea and want to start a team or organization to implement the idea, it is important for me to educate the others not only about the concordance process, but also about the content of my idea. Groups that do not understand the new idea have a tendency to revert to old familiar patterns.

I may start the group by asking them to agree concordantly to let me make all the decisions at the beginning, then let me decide when to turn over the decision-making to the whole group. Their agreement makes the process concordant from the outset.

If I surrender leadership of the group before group members know what I mean, I run the risk of having the idea subverted before it is given a chance.

If I hold on to the power beyond the point necessary, I run the risk that everyone will lose interest and that I will have to do it all myself.

Sensitive timing involves being sure that everyone understands my idea, whether they agree or not. When that point is reached, the time to surrender decision-making power has arrived. á