Generative Decision Making Process
Collective decision making made efficient (yes, it’s possible!)
Making decisions together does not have to be long and painful. The realm of “consent based decision making” is not well known even though it can help organisations make decisions collectively efficiently and wisely. We use this at percolab, a consultancy company supporting social innovation and collaboration, based in Canada and France.
We developed Generative Decision Making Process, a consent based decision making process built on the Integrated decision making method of Holacracy with the culture and practice of Art of Hosting. We use it every week at Percolab. Our record is 19 strategic decisions in one hour!
The process requires a host, ideally, the host rotates from person to person. At percolab everyone can run this type of decision making and we rotate organically depending on the day.
When first developing the practice it can be helpful for an organisation to invite in an external host for an initiation or supportive coaching to develop the internal skills.
Is the time ripe for the decision? Is the context clear? Is there information or data that needs to be gathered? Could an open conversation help develop the ripeness?
Hosting tips: You might need to offer the group one or two open conversation time slots to get to this point (ex. I am going to put the timer on for 10 minutes while you explore the topic in question). Offer supplementary time slots as necessary. You might need to conclude that the decision is not ripe, and this is ok. Listen in deeply and when you sense that there is a possible proposal in the air, the time is ripe. Invite the group to head into the next step.
2. Proposal Version I
Invite the group — would someone like to make an initial proposal? This will help the group move forward into action and there will be lots of opportunities to fine tune the proposal together.
Hosting tips: Help the proposer name a proposal in ideally one single sentence. Avoid the proposal spreading into multiple proposals. Ensure that the proposal is written for all to see (separate from the proposer) and repeat it out loud.
The group has the opportunity to voice questions to the proposer. The proposer has two options to answer — i) Provides the answer or ii) Says « Not specified » if the answer is unknown.
Hosting tips: If someone is speaking without a question (ie. reaction) remind him that is question period. Ensure that all questions are directed at the proposer and no one else intervenes. Avoid letting the proposer speak about anything further than the direct answer(keep it tight). Sense into when the clarification period is about to finish (ie. people are ready to react).
It is mandatory that each person (minus the proposer) expresses to the group their reaction to the proposal; the different voices and perspectives of all need to be heard. The proposer listens deeply and take notes. Afterwards the proposer will craft a new version of the proposal.
Hosting tips: Begin with the person who has the most reactive emotion and then go around, until everyone has shared their reaction. Make sure that the reaction is not about the proposer, but about the proposal itself — correct if necessary.
5. Proposal version II
The proposer formulates a new version of the proposal in light of all that has been spoken. The host ensures that it is written and visible to all and reads it out loud.
Hosting tips: If you feel that the proposer might want to stay with the same proposal, remind her that she can. If you sense that the proposer needs support in formulating the second version, remind her that it is possible to ask for help — however do not rush into saying this.
An objection needs to express a risk or a backward movement for the organisation/initiative. All objections are expressed to the host who then decides if the objection is valid or not. If it is valid, then the proposer needs to integrate it into a new version of the proposal. (Then the objection round is repeated).
Hosting tips:Sometimes people might express personal concerns that are not in fact organisational risks. This needs to be differentiated. If it is fuzzy you may ask for help to the group. This is the hardest part of the process for the host.
7. Visual confirmation
Everyone visually confirms I can live with this decision by raising their thumb. This is a way of allowing all to see that everyone is fully onboard with this decision. If there is something that has not been spoken that needs to be it will show up because a person will be unable to raise his thumb. This can happen when (i) someone is struggling to find words to put on an idea that is important to them or (ii) someone is disengaging in the process (holding on to the possibility to question the decision in the hallway thereafter). Either way it will need to be addressed and the group needs to return to the part of the process that was not fully addressed.
Note: It is good to have visual confirmation as a cultural cue with which the process may be fast tracked. Someone makes a proposal and you can just do a quick check in to see right away if everyone could live with it.
Hosting tips: This is not a decision council and it is not an opportunity to lower thumbs and restart a process. It is simply a visual confirmation. If the process has run smoothly all thumbs should be raised. If someone is struggling to find voice for an objection kindly support the person and let them know that all information is important.
This sums up the process. A final word just like playing the piano, don’t expect to get it perfect first go. It does take some practice.
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This practice is part of a wider set of practices published in my book Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time (Berrett Koehler Publishers) in which I share 7 domains of practices (all commons!) and I dig in further to the realm of decision making:
This article is also published on the website of my organization PERCOLAB Coop an experiment-ation and development lab for systems and culture shift committed to the socio-ecological transition, modelling new ways of working, learning and governing.