Unleashing Collective Wisdom: The Advice Process in Decision-Making
Decision-making in most company cultures can be a frustrating experience for all involved. Commonly you experience either top-down decision making, whereby leaders make the decision and roll it down to teams, or consensus, where you try to get an overall vote.
Both types of decision-making processes are well-known to trigger disengagement because teams don’t feel like they’re able to participate their own ideas, opinions or experiences. And this is heightened when the decisions being made are impacting their work.
From my experience as a coach, I get to see it from both sides. Leaders get exhausted by the amount of decisions they keep having to make, and quickly the list of decisions grows ever long, but with their own priorities high, some of these other ‘less important’ decisions can take weeks or even months.
And then in the other camp you have teams waiting for decisions to be made, and frustrated when they feel the decision made is either not relevant or out of touch.
It’s safe to say that common decision making is a process in which everyone is feeling the tension and frustration.
So how do we fix this? – How do we help people make better and faster decisions? And most importantly, stop decisions being ‘done’ to the team?
In this feature I want to highlight one practical tool that is used by progressive teams all over the world – the advice process.
What is the advice process?
The advice process is a unique decision-making model that’s proven to be invaluable in progressive organisations. This powerful tool reshapes the traditional hierarchical decision-making mechanism, allowing every member of the team to play an active role. It is a methodology that tackles common challenges faced by teams; decisions being siloed, decisions being made without consultation with those impacted by the decision, and of course, poor decisions.
While this process is used in many self-managed organisations, it can be effective in any type of organisation, as long as certain prerequisites are in place as I’ve detailed below.
Ultimately, if decision-making is feeling fraught in your company culture, you may want to explore such a simple tool which can create greater participation and distribute power to your team to get things done without having to wait for a manager to sign off.
Quick guide to the advice process
Implementing the advice process entails a clear set of steps:
1. Identify Decision-Maker: Unlike the consensus model where everyone needs to agree, the advice process entrusts a single person with the decision. This person is often the one who noticed the problem or the one who is most invested in the outcome.
2. Seek Advice: The decision-maker then consults with experts, stakeholders, and those who will be impacted by the decision. They gather opinions, insights, and perspectives to help form a holistic view of the situation.
3. Make the Decision: After all the advice is gathered, the decision-maker then makes the decision. They aren’t bound to follow all the advice given, but they must consider and respect it.
4. Communicate: Once the decision is made, it is shared with the team along with the reasoning behind it. If the advice was not taken, it’s important to explain why. This transparency enhances trust and engagement within the team.
5. Implementation and Review: The decision is implemented, and its outcomes are regularly reviewed. The team learns and adapts from this iterative process, which enhances future decision-making capabilities.
Where did the advice process come from?
The advice process was pioneered by Dennis Bakke an entrepreneur and thought leader in the field of decentralised decision-making. He co-founded AES Corporation, a Fortune 200 global power company, in 1981. Bakke was instrumental in fostering a unique work culture at AES where people at all levels of the organisation were encouraged to think like owners and make significant decisions. This culture laid the groundwork for what he called the “advice process.”
Bakke believed in the philosophy of “letting people use their God-given talents” and championed the idea of “joy at work.” He institutionalised the advice process at AES, which included two main rules: one couldn’t make a decision without seeking advice from all affected parties, and advice obtained must be taken into consideration. This approach not only empowered employees but also ensured a holistic perspective on decision-making, aligning with Bakke’s belief in the potential of every individual to contribute to an organisation’s success.
Bakke has written about the power of decision-making into his best-selling book The Decision Maker.
The ethos of the advice process aligns with ancient practices seen in tribal communities where decisions were made collectively, taking into account the wisdom of all members.
Semco, a Brazilian manufacturing company, was among the first companies to adopt a radical form of corporate democracy in the 1980s under the leadership of Ricardo Semler. This approach included the use of the advice process, contributing significantly to the company’s astounding success.
More recently, Frederic Laloux, in his book “Reinventing Organizations”, popularised the advice process along with several other innovative practices observed in “teal” organisations – the term he uses to describe the next stage in the evolution of organisations.
How the advice process truly gives power to teams?
Traditional decision-making processes often leads to a concentration of power, where top managers or bosses make crucial decisions, leaving the rest of the team feeling disconnected from the decision-making process. This centralised decision-making model can reduce overall morale, engagement, and hinder innovation due to the lack of diverse perspectives.
The advice process alleviates these issues by democratising the decision-making process. Every team member gets the chance to influence decisions, enhancing engagement, fostering innovation and a sense of ownership, and improving communication channels. It promotes a culture where every voice matters, thus enabling more informed, democratic, and holistic decisions.
Are there any prerequisites?
Indeed, the advice process is a transformative way of making decisions, but it requires a specific mindset and certain prerequisites to work effectively. Here are some recommendations for teams intending to adopt this method:
1. Cultivate Trust: Trust is fundamental to the advice process. Team members must trust each other’s competence and intentions. Building a culture of trust can take time, and it often requires transparent communication, respect, and consistency.
2. Promote Psychological Safety: For the advice process to work, team members must feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. A psychologically safe environment encourages open discussion and reduces the fear of retribution for dissenting or unconventional perspectives.
3. Develop Good Listening Skills: Seeking and taking advice requires excellent listening skills. Team members should be encouraged to listen to understand, not to respond, which can foster deeper comprehension and respect for differing opinions.
4. Foster a Learning Mindset: The advice process works best in an environment that encourages learning and growth. A learning mindset not only helps in understanding and processing advice but also fosters a culture where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement.
5. Encourage Transparency: Transparency in communication and processes is essential. Clear and regular communication can prevent misunderstandings and foster a sense of belonging and trust within the team.
6. Train in Conflict Conversations: Differences in opinion are natural in a process that involves seeking advice from a diverse group. Teams should be equipped with conflict skills to constructively navigate through these disagreements.
7. Have Clear Processes: The steps in the advice process should be clearly outlined and communicated to all members. This clarity can prevent confusion, ensure all voices are heard, and promote effective decision-making.
8. Ensure Respect for the Process: Finally, all team members should respect the advice process. This respect includes understanding that the final decision rests with the decision-maker, even if all advice is not incorporated.
By paying attention to these prerequisites, teams can create an environment that not only supports the advice process but also nurtures a more engaged, innovative, and productive workplace.
Questions to consider when adopting the advice process
As well as the quick guide and prerequisites, teams should consider some key questions before implementing the advice process. After all, not every model or framework will fit the needs of your team or organisation, so it’s important to truly reflect and have dialogue about implementing a new process such as this.
By creating dialogue, we also make clear any uncertainties or ambiguities. Only by becoming aware of these can we come together to move through them.
- How will we use the advice process?
- Are there any boundaries or limitations we will set together?
- What good can come from adopting this model?
- How does the advice process affect our work?
- When will decisions be reviewed?
7 Examples of companies using the advice based process
These examples show that the advice process can be successfully implemented in various industries, from tech and retail to healthcare and food processing. They illustrate the potential of this approach to improve decision-making, increase employee engagement, and boost overall organisational effectiveness. Since writing this, not every organisation may still use the advice-process specifically. Instead, what you may see is organisations using multiple decision-making tools depending on type of decision needing to be made, and the impact of that decision. Learning different decision-making methods is something that should be considered, as not every method fits all situations and decision types.
1. Buffer: A popular social media management platform, Buffer is known for its self-management practices. The company uses the advice process to allow any team member to make decisions and bring about changes, ensuring diverse perspectives and fostering a culture of ownership.
2. Zappos: An online shoe and clothing retailer, Zappos initially adopted the Holacracy management system, which includes practices resembling the advice process. In a move to eliminate traditional managers, the company promotes circles or teams where decision-making powers are distributed. They have since moved to their own alternative style of self-management where more democratic decision-making methods are used.
3. Buurtzorg: A Dutch home-care organisation, Buurtzorg is renowned for its self-managed team structure. The company’s decision-making process involves team consultation, encouraging collective wisdom and shared responsibility.
4. Semco Partners: As mentioned before, Semco is a Brazilian company that has championed the advice process under the leadership of Ricardo Semler. Its radical corporate democracy has been documented in Semler’s books “Maverick” and “The Seven-Day Weekend”.
5. Valve Corporation: A video game developer, Valve follows a flat structure with no formal bosses, where employees are allowed to select the projects they want to work on. They make decisions based on peer advice and consensus, reflecting the ethos of the advice process.
6. David Allen Company: The company behind the popular productivity method “Getting Things Done” employs the advice process for its decision-making. Allen believes that this method can allow organisations to be “totally flat and totally effective at the same time.”
7. Morning Star: A leading processor of tomato products, Morning Star operates on self-management principles. The company applies the advice process to reach decisions that align with their mission and responsibilities.
If you’re intrigued to learn more about the advice process and enhance your decision-making, I’ve listed some resources below.
Corporate Rebels – Joost Minnaar and Pim De Moore
The power of the advice process lies in its capacity to democratise decision-making within businesses and teams, empowering individuals at all levels. It fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility, helping to drive engagement and morale.
By encouraging the decision-maker to seek advice from those affected by the decision and those with relevant expertise, it taps into the collective wisdom of the team, allowing for more informed, holistic decisions.
This collective approach also helps to identify potential issues or opportunities that may have been overlooked in a more traditional top-down decision-making process.
Furthermore, the advice process enhances communication and trust within teams, leading to a more cohesive and collaborative work environment.
Are you ready to unleash the collective wisdom in your team?