Why Consensus Based Decision Making is Slowing Down Your Team

One of the reasons teams feel they’re “not moving fast enough” is because they’re not making decisions fast enough—instead, ideas and proposals get stuck in meetings (and meetings for meetings) due to the fact that the team hasn’t made their decision making process explicit. There are two options, consensus and consent:

  • Consensus requires everyone to say yes. To reach consensus, teams try to arrive at the most palatable proposal for the entire group. This process often causes an idea or proposal to become watered down as each member of the team adds to or subtracts from the idea before they will support it.
  • Consent requires no one say no. To reach consent, each team member must assess an idea based solely on the risk posed to the team or the larger organization. Only if a proposal is found to be “unsafe” may a team member object.

Conditions for Using Consent

We typically recommend teams use consent as a decision making model as it leads to faster decisions, but a few conditions must be in place first:

  • Roles and domains are already made explicit. Before a team can rule on an area of the business, they need explicit ownership of those decisions. Nothing deflates team engagement like a decision being undone later by a senior manager.
  • The group processing the decision is educated on the nuances of the business. As organizations flatten and speed up, employees need to be educated and trained on how the business works before you can ask them to thoughtfully weigh in on decisions that they may not have expertise in. A strong learning and development program helps ensure that faster decisions remain good decisions.

The P.A.R.S.E. Method for Consent

Use the P.A.R.S.E. (Present, Ask, React, Solve, Execute) methodology to instill consent based decision making within your team.

  1. Present your proposal to the group. A proposal is driven by either a problem or opportunity facing the team or individual.  It most often takes the form of either a new policy or project among the team or a revision to an existing policy or project. If your organization is new to using consent, practice using consent on a non-critical business questions first (“Let’s only have healthy snacks in the break room”) before moving to more critical areas like business and strategy.
  2. Ask for questions that clarify the proposal or provide greater context. Give everyone an opportunity to ask a question of the person submitting the proposal.
  3. React to the proposal. After everyone has had a chance to react/reflect, ask the person submitting the proposal if they’d like to revise the proposal (or remove it altogether).
  4. Solve for any objections that deem the proposal “unsafe.” The Facilitator should ask the group if anyone objects to the proposal based on the grounds that it is unsafe for the team and/or business. To move forward, the proposer should discuss the proposal with the objectors to find a “safe” alternative, or they may retract the proposal.
  5. Execute the proposal and report back. Once a proposal is accepted as “safe” by the team (either because no one objects to it or all objections are resolved), the proposal is considered accepted and the work itself may begin.

The P.A.R.S.E. Cheat Sheet

Feel free to download this sheet and bring it to your next meeting as a reminder.

Consent Based Decision Making

Published December 3, 2015