Taking decisions – without winners and losers

Part 2: Systemic consensing

We have all been in a situation where we need to take a decision but are unsure what to do. Imagine your company wants to implement a sustainability initiative. Several good ideas have been put forward, but which is right for your company? According to economist Herbert Simon, it is impossible for people to know in advance which is the right decision. An excess of perfectionism can paralyse the decision-making process. In this and future issues of the Kuraray online magazine, we present some tools that could help you and your team take decisions more effectively. The second article in this series looks at systemic consensing.

One team, many opinions

Taking decisions that satisfy everyone in a group is not easy. We all know that it is never possible to please everyone. Experience shows that brokering a consensus that gets the full support of everyone involved is a time-consuming process that can get bogged down in endless discussions. And weighing up the pros and cons often ends up with winners and losers. When it comes to important decisions that have to be taken jointly by a team whose members have an equal say or that affect different departments and need to be accepted by everyone, what is needed is an effective method that simplifies the decision-making process yet allows for different perspectives. Ultimately, that is vital for the overall success of a project. That is precisely where systemic consensing can help.

“Imagine you are working in a production plant and one of your products is going to be redesigned,” says Daniela Niemeyer, Specialist Organizational Development at Kuraray. “Your engineers model several options. Colleagues working in production like one of them because it could easily be produced without making major changes to the production lines. The Controlling team prefers a different design because it involves lower cost and improves capacity utilization. And Marketing has quite different ideas, even though it finds the first option quite good. There is not one design that they all like. Systemic consensing offers a way out of such dilemmas, where there is a risk that the decision-making process would lead to deadlock.”

From perfectionism to a common denominator

This method was developed by the Institut für Systemisches Konsensieren. The focus is on collaboration. It also provides space for aspects that are often perceived as negative. Instead of completely ignoring misgivings, rejection, reservations and other opinions and perceptions, which happens when decisions are taken by weighing up the pros and cons, the principle of systemic consensus uses them productively.

For example, if your company wants to redesign a product, the first step is to jointly identify the specific issues. Those involved then draft possible designs and the whole team examines their feasibility. Finally, everyone involved enters a score for each proposal in a “resistance matrix” showing the strength of their resistance (objection) the proposal. The decision goes in favour of the design with the lowest resistance rating. This method is based on the conviction that the solution that garners the least resistance is closer to a consensus than the solution with the highest approval rating. The systemic consensing workflow is illustrated in a box at the end of this text.

A decision as the starting point – without winners and losers

Despite differing viewpoints, in this way it is possible to generate a new product design that everyone is satisfied with. The method therefore promotes a consensual decision-making process without winners and losers. In fact, the actual decision is often only the first step in the process. Daniela Niemeyer: “In systemic consensing, the feasibility check tends to be provisional. Your teams will doubtless revise the design selected before it is ready for production. The strength of systemic consensing is that it delivers a basic decision on which the next steps in the process can be built.”

The systemic consensing workflow 

Systemic consensing facilitates a joint decision when there are several options. All opinions are equal. Is your company facing an important decision that needs to take account of different demands? We take redesigning a product as an example to illustrate the systemic consensing process.

1. What is the issue? What could make the product more attractive without reducing its quality or increasing costs?

2. Which proposed solutions are available? All participants have an opportunity to draft new designs:

  • the proposals submitted reflect the different demands made on the design.
  • The feasibility of every design is then examined. Is it more attractive than the old design but involves a reduction in quality or more work? At least one person must approve it.
  • Discussion of the pros and cons of the design

3. Determining resistance: All participants enter a score of between 0 and 10 for each design in a resistance matrix. 0 represents complete approval and 10 the greatest resistance.

4. Ranking: The design with the least resistance is taken as the consensus; the decision has been made. If two designs have the same score, the one with the highest individual resistance score is given a lower ranking. 

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