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Decision-making that works: move from consensus to consent

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This weekly twork* is part of our series to make work better together - get it direct to your inbox.

Consent-based decision making is all about inclusivity and efficiency that can also help make remote work more engaging
Photo Unsplash by krakenimages

Last week's blog about remote working was all about boosting remote work connections and re-creating water cooler moments (virtually) for a connected and engaged organisation. This week's ‘Twork’ to make work better is focused on decision-making. Why?

So many organisations often find themselves tied between the following decision-making styles:

  • An autocratic decision-maker, where decisions can be made quickly, but without much input or

  • a high consensus model, that tries to keep everyone happy but is often very slow and burdensome.

Neither is an ideal situation for a business when it comes to making decisions.

But what if we told you there's a third way that is fast but gathers input for improvements from those affected by the decision. It's called consent-based decision-making, and it might just be the missing piece in your quest to make remote work more engaging. Let's dive in

The Autocratic Dilemma

Autocratic decision-making is like a lightning strike. It's fast, powerful, and electrifying, but it rarely invites others to join the storm. A leader takes the reins and says, "I'm making the decision, and that's final."

While it's efficient, it lacks inclusivity and often leaves valuable brainpower untapped. It can also leave out very diverse perspectives that can really help a business grow and tap into new, efficient ways of solving problems.

The Consensus Conundrum

On the other end of the spectrum, we have high consensus decision-making. Imagine a room filled with voices, each trying to ensure everyone's happiness.

It sounds democratic, but it can be painstakingly slow, gathering everyone's input. In the pursuit of pleasing everyone, decisions may become so diluted and different from what they originally were intended for, that they no longer serve anyone's needs.

Enter Consent-Based Decision Making

Consent-based decision-making offers a refreshing alternative. It's like a collaborative brainstorming session with a clear purpose. Here's how it works:

1. Proposal Presentation: Start by bringing a proposal to the table. Share it with your team (preferably in advance of the meeting) and invite their input.

2. Input Without Compromise: The magic of this approach lies in not feeling obligated to incorporate every suggestion. You retain the power to decide what goes in and what doesn't.

3. Safe to Try: The ultimate goal is to make the decision or outcome "safe to try." It's not about being right or wrong; it's about moving forward with confidence. The benefit here is speed, while also giving people the opportunity to input, without slowing down the decision-making process itself.

4. The power to veto: If any participant wants to veto the proposal they must state why (and it must be a valid risk for example moving the company backwards or risk to reputation or profitability). If it’s a valid veto the person must also be committed to finding ways to improve the proposal to make it safe. Scale it down, put in safeguards, or some other solution to make it safe to try.

Twork - practice consent-based decision making

Leaders, here's a call to you to truly give power to your teams. Invite a consent-based decision-making experiment.

Here’s how to make consent-based decision-making work in your remote team:

Preparation Is Key: share the proposal in advance, allowing team members time to think and provide thoughtful input. This should be fairly well thought out. Think of the following headers:

  • Overview

  • Problem your solving or opportunity

  • Benefits

  • Risks

  • Inputs or resources required

  • Expected outcomes

Ideally no more than a page or two.

Define Above and Below the Water Line: Imagine your decision as a ship. Determine what's above the water line (manageable risks) and what's below (potentially catastrophic risks). A manageable risk is a potential project, decision or outcome whether they work or not, won't sink the boat (your business).

Anyone affected by the decision should be invited to participate.

A focused meeting is held to make the decision. Clarifying questions are asked and answered. Then a round of inputs or comments is invited. Everyone gets the opportunity to comment and it goes in order, no one interrupts, each person waits for their turn, and participants can pass.

Safe to try Good Enough Is the Target: Instead of chasing the elusive perfect decision, aim for a "good enough" one that everyone can get behind.

If there are objections, the objector must also be prepared to offer solutions to make it safe to try. The target here is to move forward not stall.

The proposer has the opportunity to change the proposal or keep it as is. They may want to go off and take time or gather more input. Or move to a decision. If everyone agrees it’s safe to try, then the decision is made.

Why Consent-Based Decision Making Matters

This approach is all about inclusivity and efficiency. It encourages anyone to bring ideas to the table, unleashing the full potential of your team's collective brainpower. And here's the best part: you don't need unanimous agreement. Once a decision is made, everyone commits to making it work.

Tweak to make a better Twork

Leaders lead by example. By your natural and organisational authority, your word is heard more strongly than others. By being an exemplar in the process, facilitating others to make their proposals safe to try, by taking input to your own proposals you are truly empowering your teams.

Embrace the "safe to try" mentality and harness the power of collective minds.

Let us know how it goes, and together, let's make work better—one decision at a time!

If you are struggling to create a connected remote/hybrid team, we can help you. Reach out here. We would love to chat to you and see how we can help.

Let’s make work better together.

Michelle Wallace


A Better Work


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