Decision making

(Notes taken from the presentation to the Project Committee given by Bob Cannell 12.10.21)

If we don’t make an active decision on what sort of decision making we should have, if we just assume things will be ok, we’re likely to have one or two people making decisions, usually the people who are in the group first. This puts people off, and some will leave the groups.

An alternative form of decision making is majority voting. Lots of people are familiar with this. The problem with majority voting is that you lose all the nuances. So, once a resolution has been agreed, sometimes it’s difficult to change it. And you end up with large minorities being fed up with a decision, because they think that their points of view are not being taken.

Another alternative is consensus. This is where everybody has to agree in the group. And often people will not voice their opinion or push their point of view because they don’t want to hold up the agreements, because they know that it will go on and on and on, and you end up with agreement by attrition, and sometimes whoever’s left at the end of the meeting takes a decision because everybody else have left. In terms of time, it’s very inefficient. It works well with small groups, where people know each other very well and the discussion can happen in an informal way. But when people don’t know each other very well, or what they’re talking about is unclear – it’s not good.

This has now changed into what’s known as consent decision making, which is a key feature of a new way of organising collective groups called sociocracy. The focus is actually on disagreement. It recognises that when people are making a decision, they choose their favourite option, their personal preference. When different people have different preferences the zone of agreement can be quite small, so people might like a bit of somebody else’s preference, and vice versa.

In consensus decision making, we talk about tolerance. So, if somebody comes up with an idea and you think, “yeah, I could live with that for a short time, see how it goes. It’s not perfect in my opinion, but it’s okay” – that’s a tolerance.

And what you find in a group of people is the zone of tolerance is much bigger than the zone of preference. If you consent to a decision, you say, I’m okay with that, and I’m going to get involved in it.

And then another option is block. And this is where somebody is saying, “I cannot agree with this, because this proposal would prevent the group achieving its goals or aims.” As opposed to: “I don’t like it.” There’s a reason why this is not a good idea in its current form. If someone says: “No, I’m going to have to block this”, we then focus on the block, work that through and amend the proposal, until the concerns of the person blocking have been addressed, and they can then consent.

So, in consent, the focus is on the disagreement, and you can see that this is a way of uncovering problems that might otherwise have been glossed over to get an agreement.

The meeting is a timed discussion. And that’s timed. There are decision items, proposals which have previously been discussed, and are now in the form where people think: “Well, I can bring this to this meeting now, we’ll see how it goes”.

It’s not a matter of people just consenting to this and that, and if it’s got consent that’s a yes. There is an action list, and an identification of who is doing it. If nobody’s doing – it doesn’t happen. It’s important to know what they are doing, and when should they be doing, by when will they be reporting back. So, who, what, when is very action focused.

The format of the meetings in sociocracy, which I would recommend is rounds. So, everybody in the group expresses their opinion on business.

The meeting starts with a check in round with everybody saying how they’re feeling today. This can help a lot. If somebody is upset or annoyed by something else outside of the meeting, it’s a good way of preventing unnecessary arguments and disagreements, because you think someone’s annoyed with you and actually they got a speeding ticket on the way to the meeting and it’s nothing to do with you. Consent is done in the form of rounds, so people have to actively say “I consent to that, I can tolerate that”, or “No, I block it”.

At the end of the meeting, leave time for checkout. How do you feel it went today? How do you feel we did today? Somebody might say: “Well, we spent half an hour a general chitchat, we didn’t do any business”. Fair enough, the next meeting we can concentrate on the business that we didn’t get done.