Consent for Decision-Making in Agile Organizations
by Lance Young
Agile, when scaled, uses many techniques to round out an organization’s adoption. One of the keys to successful adoption is to modify how decisions are made to be more inclusive while still being quick and considered. Dynamic Governance is a package of techniques that an organization can apply to better support Agile teams. The main method of Dynamic Governance decision-making is called Consent, which is today’s topic.
Common types of decision-making
- Decisions provided without involvement of those affected – one decides
- Decisions are made by each individual or group independently – each decides on his/her own
- Majority rules by vote, often includes a form of debate – a few sway the many
- Standard process is applied without considering changing present behavior – standard procedure decides rather than rehashing old issues
- Consensus is used to get agreement from each participant – continues until agreement is reached by all parties
- Consent is based on eliminating any major objections to a proposal – divergent opinions are integrated and “Can you live with it?” allows the group to move forward
Every decision-making approach is available for use and should be used when appropriate. Sometimes one person needs to make a call, usually informed by those impacted, and this approach is still useful.
Often those new to collaborative empowered teams think that all decisions must be made using Consensus. Consensus is not recommended for making decisions, as it is too black and white and it takes too long to reach full agreement. Consensus often stalls or results in a stalemate.
Rather than go through each decision method and when it could be used, the focus here is on introducing Consent, the recommended method for most decisions on a team.
Consent is somewhat different from and more nuanced than Consensus. Consent is a well-documented process (see links below for more details). Consent is based on just-in-time decision-making that receives lots of quick feedback that is in turn integrated into the proposal on the table until no major objections remain. Often the facilitator of the meeting makes suggested changes, rereads the proposal, and asks for objections again. The quick rounds bring up lots of useful details that round out the proposal and create buy-in from the participants.
The basic process
- One person presents a peer-reviewed proposed solution that was sent out in advance. That person sponsors the proposal and describes it to the group making the decision.
- The group asks clarifying questions. This is not a discussion or debate. The point is to understand the proposal.
- A mood check determines where the group is starting out in regards to the proposal.
- The facilitator calls for Consent at this point, and if the mood is favorable a quick decision may result as no objections are raised and the proposal is immediately enacted. Consent is about Acceptance versus Approval: not “Would I do it that way?” but “Can I live with it?”
- During the Consent round, the facilitator asks each person, “Do you have any paramount objections to the proposal?” Any objections are heard. The only discussion is clarifying questions on the objections rather than a debate or rebuttal. The proposal sponsor offers details rather than arguments, while the facilitator keeps the focus on the proposal and not on the people involved. All input is valued and the proposal is altered to “integrate” the new information and resolve raised concerns until the objection is removed and another Consent round occurs.
- This loop of updating the proposal and asking for objections continues until there are no unresolved objections. If after several rounds the group cannot agree to live with the proposal as stated, the proposal is tabled and a small group is designated to work on it and bring it back when the objections have been resolved.
I have seen groups make important decisions with speed by using this process. The focus needs to be on properly preparing the proposal, ensuring that it includes a time limit, and including retrospective review dates to evaluate the proposal’s progress. No decision is final, and past decisions are revisited as change happens and new concerns are brought forward. The proposal should be reviewed by others before the meeting, especially by those who may have objections, and their input integrated prior to the meeting. The expectation is that the proposal will pass quickly as all deciders have seen and reviewed the proposal beforehand.
The first time I saw this lightning decision process in operation, I was very excited and began using it immediately. John Buck of Governance Alive, Americas’ leading Dynamic Governance coach and trainer, was in town last week, and I asked him how well this works with people on the phone. John said that Consent works very well with remote attendees and larger groups, which is why I wrote this article.
Sociocracy and Consent