Open decision making

From our book Open Management:

a manager is not necessarily a decision maker, in fact they usually shouldn’t be. I identify (at least) six modes of group decision-making:


The ideal collaborative decision mechanism is assumed to be consensus, where everybody gets a say and we discuss until everybody agrees, but obviously this has the potential to be slow, and may never find a unanimous result.

Majority vote

A much faster way for everybody to be heard is to put it to the vote, but this requires reducing the question to a binary yes/no, which loses a lot of information and misses the opportunity to find other solutions.


In an organisation that respects and values expertise and knowledge over status and power, the staff will naturally turn to the key thinkers for decision making. This is not the same people as the officially designated authority.


We talk a number of times in this book about finding consensus, but consensus is not always possible. The larger the group, and the more important the decision, the harder it will be.

If we can’t get consensus, we can try for consent. All must give consent (“I can live with that”, “I will wait and see”, “I’m willing to let you try”) not necessarily consensus (“I agree with that”).

If we follow Fair Process, with engagement, explanation, and expectation setting, then consent is the outcome.


The Advice Process is the simple idea that a person (or team) should feel authorised to make the decision themselves, if they’ve sought advice from the right people (those affected, and those who have relevant experience).


Collaborative diverse decision making does indeed make for better decisions, and more effective ones in that they’re more likely to be supported.

Sending decisions up the hierarchy may be slow, but so is collaborative process. Dictatorial decision making by designated authority has its place in fast-moving situations e.g. disasters. Sometimes a fast decision is better than a considered one. So we need to be able to:

  • decide how to decide for a given situation.
  • get a quick decision either centrally or locally when we need to.
  • accept and work with those decisions, at least in the interim.

To move quickly, e.g. in a state of chaos or if we simply have run out of time, the fastest decision-making method is to have a designated person authorised to make the decision. This doesn’t have to mean escalating up to a “boss”. The nominated decision maker may be a relevant role for the situation: e.g. an incident manager, the master of a skill, the owner of the product, the affected customer… Or we may simply designate somebody: the most senior person in the room, the person representing the affected guild, or somebody whose turn it is.

Decision authority is best distributed as close to the work as possible, and invoked as seldom as possible.