Participatory decision making – how to make decisions with the whole company

- Agile and Lean Principles

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by Vasco Duarte

It’s an important topic in a lot of companies: Who gets to decide what? Democratic decision-making sounds like an interesting plan, and it is. But only as long as the company stays small, it often doesn’t work in bigger companies. If you are looking for a new approach, maybe this blog post by Stefan Roock can give you an answer.

Stefan works at it-agile and he tells how they got decision-making to work. When they started with the company, the CEO made most of the decisions. But they wanted to be a participative company, so more and more decisions were made by the people themselves. ‘Bigger issues were discussed and made with majority vote’ and all was well in paradise.
But the company grew. And when they had more than 25 people, the decisions making process somehow slowed down. And decisions that were made with a small majority didn’t improve the mood. As a result some decisions were questioned again and again. The company even went back to the CEO making the more important decisions.

For it-agile the answer came after a workshop with Niels Pflaeging where he explained the Beta Codex model.

They now have a couple of simple principles. The most important for me:

  • Consensus doesn’t work with 30 people. But high commitment is important.
  • Decisions should be reversible, so wrong decisions aren’t that bad.
  • Decisions making should be decentralized.

They also have a couple of interesting mechanisms. Again, the most important:

  • If the decision only impacts one person, he can decide.
  • If the decision only impacts a team, they decide together.
  • If the decision impacts more people, they vote and try to reach consent in the company. If that doesn’t work within 10 minutes, they name a ‘decider’. That person consults his colleagues and gathers perspectives. He then makes the decision and communicates why he made it.

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I think it’s a pretty smart system. It combines the speed of individual decision-making and the engagement that comes from a process to reach consent. And by naming a decider who gathers perspectives and communicates why a decision is made, they really show they take their people seriously. Important if you ask me, they’re working with people, not with baboons. One quote struck me: Once a decision is made ‘the ones who don’t agree practice forgiveness’.

In a nutshell, that’s what working together is all about: Do the very best you can, fight for what you believe in and realize you can’t always be right.

 Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm

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