4 Decision Methods for Decentralised Teams

From Patterns for Self-organising Teams

Consensus Method

You’re looking for what is best for the group, which may mean putting personal preferences aside. Include as many stakeholders as possible and give everyone an equal voice in the process. Aim to understand concerns and objections so you can modify and improve the proposal. You may not reach unanimous agreement, but everyone should be satisfied this is the best decision we could reach.

How to do it

In general, the objective of a consensus process is to open up a wide ranging conversation to explore the possibilities, and then eventually converge on the proposal that best fits the group.

  1. Introduce and clarify the issue or opportunity
  2. Explore possible ideas and solutions
  3. Look for an emerging proposal
  4. Discuss, clarify & amend the proposal
  5. Test for agreement:
    • Agree/Support: I support this proposal
    • Abstain/Stand Aside: I will neither support nor object to this proposal
    • Disagree/Reservation: I think the proposal could be improved,
      but I do not object to the group moving ahead without my support
    • Block/Veto: I have a principled objection to the proposal and cannot let it proceed

You may need to define some specific details, like:

  • Decision threshold: how many group members need to participate for a proposal to pass? How many “Abstain”s or “Disagree”s can a proposal have and still pass? Who has the power to Block?
  • Timeframe: how much time can you allow for people to participate?
  • Facilitator: who is responsible for the process?

See the Seeds For Change website for more guidance on Consensus.

Consent Method

Consent is a participatory process like consensus, but instead of seeking the best decision for the group, consent is the absence of objections. You’re looking for a proposal that is “good enough for now & safe enough to try”. Everyone has the right to make a “principled objection”. A valid objection is like “I think there is a serious risk this proposal could do harm”, not “I have a better idea” or “I don’t like it”.

How to do it

  1. State the proposal
  2. Question round: the proposer answers clarifying questions so everyone understands what is being proposed
  3. Reaction round: the proposer listens as everyone takes turns to give their reaction,
    e.g. “I love it” or “I don’t think it is the best solution”
  4. Re-state proposal: the proposer may modify or clarify the proposal
  5. Objections: if anyone has a valid objection, the proposal needs to be modified
  6. Confirmation: everyone visually confirms the proposal with a thumbs up, indicating “I can live with this decision”

See this article by Samantha Slade for more guidance on Consent.

Advice Method

Anyone can make a decision, if they first listen to the advice of people who will be affected, and people who have relevant expertise, and they take responsibility for the outcome. As a decision-maker you own the decision. You don’t have to negotiate to satisfy everyone, but must genuinely listen to and understand the advice.

How to do it

  1. Announce that you are seeking advice
  2. Consult with people who will be affected, and people with relevant expertise
  3. Make your decision
  4. Announce the outcome: ensuring people know they were heard and understood, even if they disagree with your decision

See this article by Manuel Küblböck for more guidance on Advice & Consent.

Mandate Method

A mandate is a limited authority to take decisions for a specific set of issues with a defined process. The limits should be clear, e.g. “Mara can take any marketing decisions, so long as they spend less than $1000, and stay within our agreed principles & objectives.”

A mandate can be for an individual or a collective, e.g. “The Brand Working Group decides what is an appropriate use for our logo.” It can be autocratic e.g. “you can make small purchasing decisions without seeking input from other people”, or consultative e.g. “the developers may choose what technology they use, if they first seek Advice.”

How to do it

  • Mandates can be defined in an individual’s job description.
  • You can give a mandate to individuals or to subteams, e.g. a group of 10 people could decide by consensus to organise into 3 distinct working teams.
  • Anyone can seek a mandate to be empowered by the group to explore a new opportunity.

How they compare

Produces a strong buy-in and team unity, but can take a long time. Best used for decisions of high significance or high risk. Very effective for increasing shared understanding and creating strong bonds within a team.

Prioritises speed over agreement, which can encourage action & experimentation, but can also reduce quality. If you’re in a consensus-oriented group wanting to move faster, or a hierarchical group looking for more inclusion & power-sharing, the consent process can be an excellent option. Best for less significant or less risky decisions.

Maximises autonomy, while still making use of collective intelligence. Works best if there is a strong alignment around purpose, and you have proactive measures to support healthy disagreement. Particularly suited to decisions with unpredictable outcomes, or where special expertise is required.

When teams mature and people understand each other’s strengths, the majority of decisions can be delegated to individuals or subteams with a mandate. Best operated with transparency, so you can see what is being decided, even if you’re not consulted.


This is a little more complicated than what’s described above, but I found reading through this guide to formal consensus very useful in trying to figure out the process.


What stood out to me the most from that guide is to make sure that the stages described above in the How to do it are clearly identified, separated, and kept distinct. So, don’t problem solve during the “clarifying the issue” phase. Don’t rehash the problem during the solutions phase. Stay on topic. I guess that’s the role of the facilitator, but as Rusty’s Rules of Order Say

What you want is a whole room full of good chairs, all just chairing the crap out of themselves and each other and all keeping an eye on the process and the big picture as well as taking part as members.

Also, don’t be worried about splitting up the meeting into multiple sessions, especially if it’s contentious, but don’t do it more than a handful of times. I don’t remember where I read this, but “if we can’t reach consensus on something after 3 meetings, we should probably table it, maybe even indefinitely”. The status quo is not always that bad.


Rusty’s Rules was one of the things I drew from when designing the Assembly Fields model! It’s great – and an entertaining read too. I enjoy the moments of absurd humor :smiling_face_with_tear: