Consent Decision Making
No one objects
Consent works well when speed is needed, when the proposal is clearly defined, and when the impact of the decision is limited and reversible.
- Slow – Fast 70% 70%
- Independent – Collaborative 60% 60%
- Hierarchical – Egalitarian 60% 60%
- Private – Transparent 95% 95%
Consent means the absence of objections. Similar to consensus, consent invites people to participate in a decision-making process. But instead of granting each member the power to update and change the decision of the proposal in pursuit of a compromise, consent urges the group to accept a “good enough” solution. After a formal decision-making process, a decision is ratified when there are no meaningful objections.
Consent has become increasingly popular among engineering and technology firms over the last decade because it attempts to combine both speed and inclusiveness.
- Fast and consultative
- Encourages iterative, “good enough” solutions
- Promotes objective debate
- The decision-making process can rush teams toward a suboptimal solution
- Can be harmful if used on wide-impact, long-lasting decisions
- The formal process can feel unfamiliar and initially uncomfortable, strong facilitator is required
- Can ignore team cohesion in the decision-making process
- Gather your group for a formal consent-based decision-making meeting and identify who in the group is bringing forth a proposal
- Make sure to have a strong facilitator and a recorder. Consent requires iteration and references.
- Review the rules:
- No interruptions – only one conversation at a time, and only one speaker at a time
- Aim for ‘Safe to Try / Good Enough’ – rather than rejecting a proposal in favor of finding an ideal or long-term solution, embrace “good enough” short-term solutions
- Follow the process – the primary benefit of consent, speed, is lost if the process devolves into a consensus-seeking discussion
- State the proposal: The person with a proposal starts by describing a challenge/opportunity that falls within the group’s authority and offers a proposal to address it. In the case of multiple proposals use a democratic approach for identifying the proposal with the best chances to be accepted
- Round of questions: The group takes turns asking clarifying questions and for each, the proposer has an opportunity to respond (or not respond).
- Response/Reactions: The group takes turns offering reactions to the proposal. The proposer listens but is not expected to respond to each reaction. Example: “I think the problem you’ve identified is real, but the solution you’ve offered doesn’t seem to address the root cause.”
- Restate/Revise: The proposer may revise or clarify the proposal based on the previous questions and reactions. The group listens but does not respond.
- Objections Round: First, the group takes 2-3 minutes to silently generate objections (this is called “Harvesting Objections”). The group then takes turns raising their most severe objections to the proposal. Objections are only considered valid if the proposal will cause harm to the group or obstruct it from reaching its goals. These are so-called “paramount objections.” Objections are captured without discussion or debate. Other Objections are disqualified.
- Objections Response: The proposer addresses each paramount objection one at a time and works with the objector to revise the proposal to resolve the objection and find a safe-to-try or “good enough” middle ground. The proposal cannot move forward until all objections are resolved.
- The question at hand is “Is there anything in the proposal that is harming the group or blocking us from achieving the goals?” (Is it safe to try it?)
- Once all objections have been addressed and no objections remain, the proposal becomes accepted and should be captured by the Recorder and shared wherever the team keeps their rules/roles/projects.
In case you have your options ready, we have a great jig for you. You can use NextDecision to identify the proposal to bring to the team to identify the most harmful issue in the proposal.
Common Mistakes, Challenges and Traps
Discomfort with the process
The consent decision-making process can very rigid, and foreign to cultures that have only practiced consensus or autocracy. Practice the process until everyone understands why each step matters and then allow your group to try new formats.
Individuals feeling rushed to judgement
The consent process can be challenging and stressful for people who need time or conversation to formulate their opinions. If this happens, you can create a “review period” for any non-urgent proposal, say 48-72 hours, that allows participants to consider the proposal, talk it out with colleagues, and generate their objections.
Confusion around what is and what isn’t a valid objection
Consent requires a “paramount objection” to reject a proposal, yet the definition of a “paramount objection” is often subjective.
Instead of debating the definition, ask questions like, “Will this cause harm?”, “Can you live with this proposal for now?,” or “Is this safe to try?” to help frame what is and what isn’t a paramount objection.