Tag Archives: Decision-Making

Moving Objections to the Beginning

One of the ways the methods used in sociocracy that speeds up decision-making is going directly to objections instead of or before discussing the advantages of a proposal. The perceived advantages of a decision should be stated in the proposal or its presentation. The presenters will probably recount the issues and options they considered. There is usually no need to repeat the discussion that has taken place in previous meetings or to hear arguments in favor again.

The Process for Making a Decision Effectively

Prequel: Discuss or request comments from everyone who will be affected by the decision. A formal discussion in a  meeting of the circle may be preferable, but is not necessary if there are other ways to collect information and multiple viewpoints.

1. Present the proposal.

2. Answer clarifying questions.

Questions should be clean questions with no embedded messages. If there is an embedded message, don’t discuss it. Answer as if it had been a clean question or defer it for rounds.

4. Do a quick reaction round.

Responses of 1-2 words will indicate if there are concerns or objections that seem serious or unresolvable. Is the proposal ready for consent or should it be referred back to the proposal writers?

5. Ask for concerns and objections in detail.

(a) Refer these back to proposal writer(s) or
(b) Begin consent rounds to resolve them.

Asking for detailed concerns and objections should usually be done in a round but if there are only a few this can done more effectively by asking each person individually.

6. Consent rounds.

Several rounds may be needed to reach consent. The early rounds will suggest resolutions and later rounds to clarify remaining objections.

The decisive question is: “Do you have objections that will influence your ability to support this decision?”

Clarifications

Addressing concerns and resolving objections is a group process, not the duty of the facilitator. The facilitator decides how to proceed but this decision is subject to objections.

The facilitator participates as an equal, including in rounds.

The goal is consent to a decision that everyone can support in day-to-day operations.

Effectiveness, transparency, and accountability are the prime values in this process:

  • What will produce the most effective decision?
  • Does everyone have all the information relevant to this decision
  • Who will be accountable for the outcome of the decision

Rounds may be interspersed with discussion:

  • Rounds establish and maintain equivalence in the room. They keep decision-making balanced by encouraging everyone to participate as equals—the reticent as well as the more expansive.
  • Discussion, free form or dialogue between 2 or more persons, can be helpful to clarify questions or to give information others in the group may not have.

A proposal needs:

  • a person(s) to implement the decision and
  • a method to measure outcomes.

If there is no plan for implementing the decision or means of measuring effectiveness, the decision will probably be meaningless. Not worth the time.

Moving Objections to the Beginning

Moving objections to the beginning of consideration of a proposal instead of considering them at the end of the process moves time and attention to the issues that may not have been considered or that are in opposition to the proposal.

The arguments are then more likely to be presented and examined clearly, not in the context of a back and forth of pros and cons by skilled and unskilled orators. This kind of rhetoric can easily obscure the aim of the proposal and the nature of the objection.

The endpoint of decision-making is an action that works. Consensus decisions, those in which all the objections have been resolved and/or measurements set to test them, work best. They are not always possible but they work best.

Rounds or Discussion or Free for All?

Drop Cap Letter QWhat’s the best practice ?  Is it better to have a free for all discussion, do what we do, or have complete rounds?

“Better” is in the eye of the beholder. Understanding what rounds or discussion can do is a “better” question.
Rounds are excellent for establishing and reestablishing equivalence in the room. They not only give each person a chance to speak they shine a spotlight on each person so everyone is aware of everyone else individually. It changes the dynamic from “in a meeting making a decision” to “in a meeting with Ann, Alice, Joe, Jan, etc. making a decision.”
Rounds are a very important method for establishing and maintaining equivalence.
Discussion allows a focus on a specific point by a smaller number of people who either have more information, have the verbal ability to express the issues, or have similar concerns. It is important for everyone to hear this. Just like consent and objections belong to everyone, so do the thoughts that lead up to them. Discussions allow focus.
Discussion is important to focusing and clarifying issues.
“Free for all” is also in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes “talk among yourselves” is an important exercise. Chaos gets everyone involved and enlivens the room. The bits with the most energy will float to the top. If a facilitator listens carefully, they can also identify “hot” issues and possible solutions.
When there is too much energy, boxing people into a round may not help move the decision-making process along. Particularly in larger groups, rounds can be too repetitive and limiting. People fall asleep or otherwise disengage. If energy is high, instead of quieting down, people might fidget and leave in one way or the other. Frustrated people tend to quit.

Rounds or Discussion, and Free for All

So rounds or discussion, and even free for all, can be well used in circle meetings to produce a satisfying proposal and reach consent.
(Some people prefer to call discussion “dialogue.” I find the word dialogue to be more formal and more often refers to two people engaged in a philosophical debate or the lines recited by actors in a drama . Discussion is more familiar, and perhaps more precise.)

Switching to Sociocracy in Cohousing Communities

 

Ecovillage of Loudoun County
Ecovillege of Loudoun County in Virginia was one of the first in the to adopt sociocracy when it began in the 1990s.

As is true with all governance changes, it is easier to begin with sociocracy than to switch midstream. Communities tend to stick with “the devil they know” rather than take a chance on a new one, but more and more and more communities are switching full scale or adopting some of the principles and practices.

Except for those who have switched to sociocracy, cohousing communities use full group consensus as their primary method of decision-making. Decisions are typically made in meetings open to the full membership and with the consent of each person present. As cohousing communities have grown larger, from 12 to more than 50 households, and include increasingly more diverse populations, full group consensus has become ineffective for many, if not most. Making decisions with less than 50 people is very different from 100 or more.

In addition, many communities are more complex. They now have programs that do not involve all members—gardens, chickens, home schooling, yoga groups, etc. Consensus requires a shared aim. Delegating decisions to those who share these aims is a reasonable use of everyone’s time and energy.

Switching to Sociocracy

It is a misconception that communities switching to sociocracy cannot have full group decision-making meetings. When delegating decisions to circles, communities can also delegate decisions to “full circle meetings”, meetings of all the circles. Annual budget approval, for example, is required to be made by all owners in condominiums in Washington DC. Since most cohousing communities are condominiums, this is probably true in other states as well. Another decision that might appropriately belong in a full circle meeting is changing the vision, mission, or aim.

Sociocracy allows communities to keep the collaborative and inclusive qualities of full group decision-making while providing a structure for delegating decisions to sub-groups—committees, teams, circles, etc. Policy decisions and a coordinating structure then guide the sub-groups.

Consent vs. Consensus

While I understand the reasons for opposing consensus with consent, I believe that in the end it is self-defeating. It becomes a battle of definitions and adds a new definition unnecessarily. This distracts from the purpose. By adopting sociocracy, a community adopts a decision-making structure in which consensus more effective. Its principles and practices shift the debate from stalemate to action. It helps organize large communities so they function more effectively as excellent places to live.

Sociocracy Strengthens Consensus

The sociocratic definition of consent is “no objections.” An objection means the proposed action cannot be taken until that objection is resolved—just as it is in full group consensus. Sociocracy uses “consent” to emphasize that the decision is being made by an individual based on their own ability to “live with” the decision. It isn’t based on a hypothetical or projected standard of the “good of the community” as full group consensus practices often does. An objection is made in the context of the aim of the decision, how it affects one’s own participation in the community, and its expression of the communities stated aims (if any).

Consent can be given when there are still concerns and unmet needs but sociocracy values action, moving forward, with what appears to be reasonable decision given the circumstances. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Concerns, limitations, fears, assumptions, etc.,  can be used to design measurements for evaluating the effects of the decision. Then it can be improved based on results.

The sociocratic circle-organization method is the only one that supports and invigorates consensus decision-making.

Originally written 6 January 2013
Substantially revised 19 April 2014

Meetings Are Not the Work

We need to remind ourselves that meetings are not the work. Much work is done in meetings and they can be exhausting, but the focus of a meeting is action. Determining effective actions. Defining desired actions. Evaluating failed actions. Or bemoaning lack of action.

Possible Sources of Confusion

In several contexts lately it has become clear that many of us have drifted into confusing meetings with the work, and even as the substance of organizational theories, like sociocracy. One example of this is that we discuss the process of making decisions without measuring the process against the effectiveness of the decision made using it. How did those decision help or hinder us in doing our work and accomplishing our goals?

The focus of a meeting in one way or another is how can we accomplish our aims better? Even when we are discussing feelings, those feelings are important because they affect our ability to do our work, to fulfill our individual roles or responsibilities.

Meetings in Sociocracy and Elsewhere

Training in sociocracy often focuses on the process of circle meetings and making policy decisions: how to conduct a meeting, how to write a proposal, and how to achieve consent. This is necessary because (1) circle meetings are unique to sociocracy, (2) many members may be new to making policy decisions, and (3) sociocracy is a method of organizing work but is often presented in groups of people who do not work together.

In mixed groups, using work-specific examples that everyone understands is difficult. Thus the focus drifts to process instead of the accomplishment of a purpose.

Decisions Are Not about Meetings

The aim of a meeting is not faultless execution of a process. It is what you do when you walk out the door.

There are many, many methods for organizing excellent meetings. They can usually be easily modified for consent decision-making or for any other decision-making method the group has agreed to use. There is nothing special about any of them as long as the group understands them and they help the group make good decisions.

The measure of a good decision is that everyone can support and execute it. The process could be considered entirely chaotic by a professional meeting facilitator or trainer. The important thing is that the work can still be done effectively.

Meetings Are About Operations

Meetings are work because making decisions is often hard. Those decisions are about what happens outside the meeting. They are not an end in and of themselves.  When you make that shift in thinking, it is easier to avoid excessive attention to process. An incomplete or unworkable decision will need to be revisited whether the proper process was followed or not.

Meetings are only means to an end. Meeting generally decrease in a well performing organization while action will increase and become more effective.

Are Your Meetings Substance or Style?

If a meeting is organized around evaluating experience, information, and measurements related to past and future actions—on feedback rather than SWAG or preferences—it will likely be  focused on substance, not style.

 

For non-native English speakers, SWAG stands for “Stupid Wild-Ass Guesses.” They

 are common in decision-making and actually not always bad. Sometimes a SWAG is a good place to start.

 

Consent & Responsibility

In dynamic governance there is no option to stand aside — the only options are consent or object. If you don’t have tangible objections, ones that can be teased out and addressed, then you consent. It maybe a passive consent, “I don’t see any reason not to do this”, or an active consent, “I really think this is a good idea.” Both are consent.

We have members who insist on having a stand aside option, in my opinion, because they don’t want the responsibility of making a decision. They always want more time, more information, more reassurance. The status quo doesn’t require them to take responsibility. It just is what it is.

We have a lot of people who don’t want to make decisions so they don’t come to meetings. They are happy to have others make the decisions and they will abide by them.

But the stand asides are different. They want to actively be on record as not taking responsibility for this decision. Even if you have come in late and don’t know anything about the issue, you can consent to allow the group to move forward. Standing aside doesn’t stop the decision, so why do it?

In consensus decision-making each person is responsible for the decisions they allow to go forward. Accepting that responsibility is hard. What if I’m wrong? How can I consent to a budget if I have no concept of budgeting and can’t imagine being responsible for spending $200,000 a year on facilities maintenance?

Because consent can be given for a million reasons. This is why I like to know why other people are consenting. My decision is based on theirs as well as on my own. If Joe is consenting to a proposal to do xxx because he believes xxx is a good idea or if he is consenting because he knows xxx is a bad idea but “people have to learn,” I need to know that because my decision is informed by his. I consent as an individual, but consensus represents the consent of many.

I consent if I know nothing but trust that those making the proposal do know something or have consulted experts. I recently consented to a proposal that I have no faith in at all but those making the proposal are acting in good faith and have consulted the dubious, in my view, but only experts that exist on the subject. The damage, if any, to the facilities will be minimal if they are wrong. If the solution is too labor intensive, it will die a slow death anyway. People know my logic and have decided to move forward.

When we decided to accept the gift of a fountain when for our cohousing community, I objected because I had lived in a condominium with a fountain. It was constant maintenance and caused conflict for residents because of the noise and the expense of repairing it. Even with a full staff, it was often left on all night to the irritation of those who couldn’t sleep. I relayed my experience, laid out my questions, and assured myself that everyone had considered them and was aware of potential problems. All the problems have occurred, but I understand what was important to people — the romantic idea of a fountain and what they regarded as a work of art in the piazza. This was something most had never imagined they would have. That alone was worth the aggravation, and for some people, still is, even though it is usually turned off.

It’s a lot easier to allow others to make decisions so you can complain, but when you consent you are taking responsibility. That is a new experience for many. One way to handle it is to accept that decisions are based on the best knowledge available at the time, and can be changed. Measure results, and improve the decision. You are doing the best you can do. And so is everyone else.

Aptivate Adopts Sociocracy

Changing the World by Changing the Way We Make Decisions

Sociocracy, participatory decision-making creates systems that allow people to express full potential, says consultant

Monday August 08, 2011 — Camille Jensen,  AxiomNews

While there are countless ways to better the world, Decision Lab facilitator Nathanial Whitestone says changing how we make decisions is the most critical and profound change we could make.

Co-founding Decision Lab one year ago, Whitestone says the U.K.-based organization aims to accelerate better decision-making in organizations by introducing models that encourage participatory decision-making and improved communication flows.

“At every point we are able to fix things technologically,” says Whitestone. “The key for me is every person having control over the way they work . . . . You can’t fully express yourself, fully express the gifts you have in life, if you don’t have input on the design of how you express them.”

To transform companies into models that encourage broader decision-making and ownership over one’s work, Whitestone says it’s essential to create a governance system defined by key principles that hard-wires process into an organization so if there are changes in management, the model doesn’t evaporate.

A model Whitestone has seen work with small and large companies alike is sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance. Based on four principles, the model involves consent-based decision-making among circles, which act as semi-autonomous policy making and working groups comprised of departments or teams.

Each circle has its own aim and directs its work by performing all the functions of leading, doing and measuring its operations. The circles share at least two members; an operational leader from an upper circle and a representative from a lower circle to ensure greater feedback and self regulation.

Whitestone says a powerful testament to sociocracy — it’s also the model used to govern Decision Lab — came when working with the organization Aptivate. The innovative and values-based organization that provides IT and participatory services for international development had slipped into the habit of decision-making by endurance, where board members stayed up late arguing about the best way forward. Any Aptivate board member not interested in a late night failed to have their voice heard.

The approach was resulting in exhausted board members, a lack of people wanting to serve on the board and declining staff engagement.

Working with Decision Lab, Aptivate began to implement sociocratic design to introduce formal decision-making processes based on consensus. Within three years, the company embraced a culture where everyone’s voices are heard, meetings end on time and, most importantly, people want to participate in board-level decision-making.

When some of Aptivate’s most experienced managers left for positions at prominent development organizations like the World Bank and the International Aid Transparency Initiative, the team used its well-structured participatory decision-making process to collaborate effectively, learn necessary business skills and develop new work. Describing Aptivate’s response as powerful, Whitestone commends the company for turning a loss into an opportunity.

“Six months after that happened the biggest problem was fitting all the work into their schedule and hiring quality people fast enough,” he says.

Whitestone says he’s seeing increasing uptake in organizational models like sociocracy and workplace democracy, demonstrating valuable new ways to organize. Combined with the development of broader community collaboration, like crowdsourcing, gives Whitestone hope that large-scale social change is possible.

“It makes it really clear that top down is not the only way,” he says. “I genuinely do believe that’s the biggest lever that needs to be pulled. That just needs to happen, everywhere.”


If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051 or e-mail camille(at)axiomnews.ca.

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Satisfice: Satisfying & Sufficient

Satisfice (a portmanteau of satisfy and suffice) is a decision-making strategy that attempts to meet criteria for adequacy and not to find an ideal solution.

The word satisfice was created by Herbert Simon in 1947. He pointed out that human beings lack the cognitive resources to maximize: we usually do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes, we can rarely test all outcomes with sufficient precision, and our memories are weak and unreliable. A more realistic approach to rationality takes into account these limitations but attempts to find a solution that is satisfying and suffices in addressing the issue and moving forward.

The Costs of the Optimal Solution

The alternative is to continue to search for a probably elusive perfect solution. A satisficing strategy may often be near optimal if the costs of the decision-making process itself, such as the cost of obtaining complete information, are considered in the decision.

The Principle of Good Enough

Sociocratic literature and trainers often use the Principle of Good Enough to mean satisfying. In software development and systems design, good enough means that a solution meets the clients needs even though a more capable solution is available. But often good enough is perceived negatively  as adequate, acceptable, tolerable, rather than the more positive terms satisfactory, respectable, reasonable, and all right.

In situations where a group is striving for optimal solutions and achievements, good enough may be met with disdain. The standard of satisfying might be more acceptable since it also sets a clear standard. The solution must not only suffice; it must be satisfying.

Often the characteristic that produces satisfaction is the ability of the solution to help a group more forward.