How do you currently arrive at decisions in your team? Do you make them by majority vote or is it up to individual team leaders to decide on a plan or topic that concerns all involved? I find sociocratically facilitated decision-making processes extremely efficient and the effect so convincing that I specialized in introducing them to organizations and teams in trainings and facilitations a few years ago.
In sociocratically oriented organizations, important decisions come about through consensus facilitation, a somewhat unwieldy term for a fascinating process. Team decisions are only considered valid when all objections are acknowledged and processed until everyone agrees with the result. In this way, the different perspectives and knowledge of the individual team members are taken into account, the decisions are well thought out and congruent.
What is recognized as an objection?
An objection occurs whenever a participant of the decision process assumes that the decision could jeopardize the achievement of the team’s or organization’s goals. The participants then try to understand the objection and modify the proposed resolution so that the objection can be withdrawn. Over time, this creates an organizational culture that views an objection as valuable information for achieving goals.
How do resolutions come about?
Sociocracy uses the process of consensus facilitation to arrive at thoughtful and far-sighted decisions. Appropriately trained facilitators work with the following stages of decision-making:
1) Issue clarification ( called „picture formation“) ensures that everyone understands what is to be decided, therefore each person will get the necessary information to form an opinion. Otherwise discussions loose too much time due to misunderstandings or missing information.
2) The opinion-forming phase, usually in two or three opinion rounds:
Members express one by one what they find important about the decision in question, e.g. how to get to a certain improvement or how a certain quality would be sustained, etc., the participants also suggest, what specifics the decision should contain.
While the focus in the first round is on individual perspectives and experiences, in the second round it shifts to consider the ideas of the other participants and to suggest solutions that everyone in the team could go along with. Then the moderator formulates from all the contributions a proposed resolution, which he or she „puts up for consensus.“
3) In the consensus round, objections to the proposed resolution are to be heard and recognized. As already mentioned, objections are not considered as different individual preferences, but are precisely defined as serious concerns that might jeopardize achievement or success. The expression of an objection is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning of an exchange with the person voicing the objection. For example, with the following questions:
▪ To what extent would the resolution jeopardize the achievement of the goal?
▪ How could the resolution be modified so that the risk no longer exists?
▪ What measures could monitor the effect of the resolution?
In most cases, objections improve resolutions. It is exceptional when a decision needs to be postponed or delegated to a higher body.
And what is the response to this kind of decision-making process?
The facilitation in sociocratic procedures promotes a constructive, solution-focused communication culture with some more depth than usual. Participants listen to each other more attentively and even introverted or self-conscious participants are not holding back and contribute their opinion. There are no ping-pong discussions nor long monologues or endless references to the past.
Since all team members are equally involved in decision-making and the end result is based on consideration rather than votes, sociocratically derived decisions have the best chance of being supported widely. In addition, each decision is monitored closely for a certain time period to check its practicality. After that – or sooner in the case of undesirable effects – the decision is retained or changed. For each decision, it is important to check the effect in practice and to learn from it.
Kathrin Schmitz M.A., January 2023
Kathrin Schmitz M.A., is an experienced international consultant and certified trainer for sociocracy and non-violent communication. She facilitates strategic planning and decision-making processes with groups, teams and communities. Affiliated with CoachingExpats since 2019