Decision-Making in Practice
We operate via a mixture of consensus and agile decision-making. We understand consensus to mean not unanimity but finding agreement by seeking a compromise in a conversation. We do not believe in the rigid adoption of a particular form of decision-making, which can place power in the hands of those most versed in that process, often silencing those less familiar. Instead, we adopt agile decision-making which means any individual or group is empowered to make decisions in person, via emails or at meetings as long as they follow the ‘advice principle’.
The advice principle means any person can make any decision after seeking advice from 1) everyone who will be meaningfully affected, and 2) people with expertise in the matter.
Advice received must be taken into consideration. The point is not to create a watered-down compromise that accommodates everybody’s wishes. It is about accessing collective wisdom in pursuit of a sound decision. With all the advice and perspectives the decision maker has received, they choose what they believe to be the best course of action.
Advice is simply advice. No colleague, whatever their importance, can tell a decision-maker what to decide. Usually, the decision-maker is the person who first noticed the issue, or the person most affected by it.
In practice, this process proves remarkably effective. It allows anybody to seize the initiative. Power is no longer a zero-sum game. Everyone is powerful via the advice process, and responsible for their decisions.
Benefits of the advice process
Community: it draws people, whose advice is sought into the question at hand. They learn about the issue. The sharing of information reinforces the feeling of community. The person whose advice is sought feels honored and needed.
Humility: asking for advice is an act of humility, which is one of the most important characteristics of a fun workplace. The act alone says, "I need you“. The decision maker and the adviser are pushed into a closer relationship. This makes it nearly impossible for the decision-maker to ignore the advice.
Learning: making decisions is on-the-job education. Advice comes from people who have an understanding of the situation and care about the outcome. No other form of education or training can match this real-time experience.
Better decisions: chances of reaching the best decision are greater than under conventional top-down approaches. The decision maker has the advantage of being closer to the issue and has to live with responsibility for the consequences of the decision. Advice provides diverse input, uncovering important issues and new perspectives.
Fun: the process is just plain fun for the decision-maker, because it mirrors the joy found in playing team sports. The advice process stimulates initiative and creativity, which are enhanced by the wisdom from knowledgeable people elsewhere in the organization.
Steps in the advice process
Someone notices a problem or opportunity and takes the initiative, or alerts someone better placed to do so.
Prior to a proposal, the decision-maker may seek input to sound out perspectives before proposing action.
The initiator makes a proposal and seeks advice from those affected or those with expertise.
Taking this advice into account, the decision-maker decides on an action and informs those who have given advice.
Because the advice process involves taking advice from those affected by a decision, it naturally follows that the bigger the decision, the wider the net needs to be cast. For minor decisions, there may be no need to seek advice. For larger decisions, advice can come through various channels, including one-on-one conversations, meetings, or online communication.