Four Steps to Better Collaborative Decision Making
In a self managed company it often happens that people need to make time boxed decisions so that work can run smoothly and things get done on time. In mondora we often experience the need to take quick decisions and then act accordingly, without going through an approval process at a higher level and without having any top-down decisions from executives or management. One thing we often have to decide about is whether to take up a new project, or start working with a new customer. These are important business decisions that can impact the performance of the company and need to be considered carefully. And who better to know if it is a good idea or not, than the people who will actually be working on the new project or with the new customer?
Of course, in order for people to take such a decision, everyone has to receive the necessary information. For this reason the company operates a strong transparency policy, where everyone has access to financial information and can understand how business is going. People in each team also know what other teams are working on, who is struggling, who is about to start a new project and so on. This kind of information is often reserved for management in a traditional company, but it is vital for everyone to have full access in a self-managed company, in order to reach good business decisions.
But how do we go about making timely decisions in practice? In mondora we have a hybrid setting: there is an office where people meet and work, but there is also the possibility of working remotely. On a daily basis there will be between 15 and 20 people in the office and 20 people working remotely, either from home or from a customer’s office. Some people work remotely once or twice a week, others are seen in the office no more that a couple of times a year. You never really know who you’ll meet during an average day in the office! This particular set-up makes it vital for us to have a good choice of technological tools at our fingertips, to keep communication running smoothly. The main tools we currently use include Slack, WhatsApp, Loomio, Appear, Hangouts and email. We have so many different ways of communicating because we believe that different types of communication work best on different channels. I will tell you more about this in a future post, but for now let’s focus on the tools we use when making business decisions and what steps are necessary to reach agreements:
1. Clear and timely communication
It is of utmost importance that what needs to be decided is set out clearly, so that everyone can understand what’s going on and take part in the decision process. For this we use Loomio, a tool which allows us to start discussion threads (much like a forum), attach documents and cast votes. The person requesting the decision outlines the main points in a Loomio post and attaches relevant documentation. The time in which the decision is to be reached is also stated in this initial post.
2. Time boxed discussion to reach a common decision
Once the topic is outlined and the timebox set, people can start evaluating the proposal and contributing their thoughts and ideas to the discussion thread. According to personal preference, Loomio notifies people of new threads by email. If participation in a decision thread is low or slow, a link to the post is usually shared in Slack too, by sending a push notification to everyone. This works because Slack is our main everyday communication tool and we all use it constantly.
3. Voting a decision and motivating the vote
Once the discussion has started and people have stated their position and their thoughts, a vote usually takes place. The possibility of setting up a simple voting system in Loomio is what made us switch from Discourse to this tool. Normally within one or two days of the initial thread being posted, voting will be added. This is also time boxed and lasts one to two days. There are various voting systems to choose from, such as polls, yes/no votes, blocking votes and so on. We expect everyone to use their right to vote. If someone abstains from voting, they are indicating they have no interest in the topic. If someone feels they don’t have enough information to cast a vote, they ask for clarification in the decisional thread. Occasionally more time will be granted to reach a decision if the discussion outlines difficult issues that need to be overcome first.
At the end of the time boxed period the voting closes automatically and a decision is reached. If for any reason a person decides to block the decision, that decision is not taken no matter how many votes it has, as this indicates that more discussion is needed. In this case there will be a new, updated thread that considers the previous discussion, and a new vote. An agreement is usually reached already on the first round and occasionally on the second. In case of a really tough issue a group of us will discuss things in person with the CEOs (we have two!) and keep everyone informed on Loomio at the same time.
4. Decision taken — time for action
When a decision is reached it is time to take action: the person who started the thread will be responsible for furthering the action, together with other people that have stated their participation in the discussion thread. In this way we decide how to do business and run the company together, and we act upon our collective decisions. Occasionally we actually make decisions that the CEOs are not too sure about, but we follow through with them and so far things have always worked out well! A very important piece of the puzzle here is the fact that no one is punished for making a mistake: we celebrate failure because it provides a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone and helps people grow and evolve. People feel safe enough to discuss issues, cast votes and act on decisions because if it doesn’t work out they will learn and improve for next time and no one will be getting fired.
What we have learned so far
Decision making in a self managed company is a complex process and requires a wise use of the technological tools that are available. At the moment we find Loomio, with a little Slack thrown in, is the best tool for us as it brings everyone together and people can easily find and reply to threads in their own time, without them getting lost in the large amount of other communication we pass around daily. As we will see in another post, we use WhatsApp, Slack, Appear, Hangouts and still some email for other types of communication, but we would never attempt to make an important decision through these tools. We feel it is vital to understand the difference between various types of communication in order to get things done effectively — if we try to take an important decision on Slack for example, which we used to until we learned to do better, people get lost in the process, non-relevant information gets in the way and threads end up full of funny memes…not the best environment for a business decision!
In mondora we never stop learning and experimenting with new and better ways of running the company. For the moment this set-up is working well for us, but we would love to hear about how things are done in other companies! How do you communicate and reach decisions? What tools work for you? What works and what doesn’t? Let us know!
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