Consensus-based Decisions

In the book Software for Your Head, Jim McCarthy introduces The Core Protocols (pdf). Even though the book occasionally give off a new-agey feeling with ritualistic interaction, I think the Protocols have a lot of merit. I especially like “the decider protocol”

As I see it, the Decider protocol is a basic tool for consensus-based decisions. I think consensus as a tools in misunderstood and underutilized. It is easy to assume that basing decisions on consensus is a perfect way of spiraling off into meaningless discussions, but I think this is easily avoided. The thing is: The only thing that consensus means is that no-one feels strongly enough about a decision of the group to oppose it. If the intentions of each member of the group can be revealed quickly enough that one can avoid needless debate when there already is agreement, decisions can be made fairly quickly.

With the Decider protocol, it is all pretty easy: Anyone can veto a decision. This means that everyone will have to stand behind the decision once it has been made. If you cannot stand behind the decision, you will be asked “what will it take to get you in?” (the Resolution protocol).

In my experience, most of the time a comitee is extremely grateful for any well-formed proposal that is presented before it. The Decider protocol rewards making such proposals, while making it safe to protest unsound proposals. The Resolution protocol allows for the proposal to be improved to everyone’s satisfaction.

But if you are member of a consensus-based group – you better pay attention. You have your chance to veto, you have your chance to raise a counter-proposal. Unless you protest a proposal, you will be required to support it after it has been decided.

I have yet to see a full fledged “Decider protocol by email” description. For many groups, I think this could be very effective. A decider protocol for email would have to talk about how to deal with silence, how to set dead-lines for responses, and how to deal with Resolution. Do you have an idea about how to handle this? Leave a comment or send me an email.

Copyright © 2006 Johannes Brodwall. All Rights Reserved.

About Johannes Brodwall

Johannes is Principal Software Engineer in SopraSteria. In his spare time he likes to coach teams and developers on better coding, collaboration, planning and product understanding.
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