Ditch the theater of consensus decision-making with this easy checklist

Half these people don’t even need to be there.
Half these people don’t even need to be there.
Image: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz
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Dominic Price has the intriguing title of “work futurist” at the Sydney-based software company Atlassian. A few years ago, Price noticed that the company’s open, collaborative style was inadvertently slowing down productivity and momentum.

“We found that we were moving a lot toward consensus decision-making,” Price told Stanford professor Bob Sutton in a July episode of Sutton’s business podcast Friction.

“Everyone had to be in the room, or you’d get to the end of the 90-minute meeting and you’d go, ‘Right, should we meet again next week?’ Well, what did we just achieve? There were some really expensive people in that room. ‘Oh, [but] Bob wasn’t there, so we couldn’t make the decision. So let’s just have the meeting with him, then!’ We started to see a lot of frustration and tension with decision-making, and it was slowing us down.”

In habitually opening the floor to contributions from team members, Atlassian had failed to make clear whose buy-in was actually necessary to move a given decision forward. Rather than continue to deal with the fallout of messy processes, the company decided to make clear up front whose input really counted—and whose, quite frankly, did not.

Atlassian implemented something of a decision-making checklist, Price explained to Sutton. Now, before drawing employees into endless rounds of project meetings, the company asks itself three questions:

Who is the decision-maker?

This is the person without whom that the process can’t move forward.

Who are the people we will consult?

These are the colleagues whose opinions and input are important to solicit, even though they may not have power to make (or veto) the final decision.

Who are the people that will be informed?

“That is a one-way communication,” Price said. “I will inform you. You may say something back. I will not hear it.”

The change has been helpful, particularly with Atlassian’s teams scattered over multiple time zones, Price said. Paring down the meeting schedule lets farflung teams save the precious hours when their work days line up for the stuff that really matters.

“Meetings, when they’re productive and constructive, are awesome,” Price said.