Self-Organization and Safety

Handling Decisions and Disagreements Inside a Self-Organizing Tribe

by Ron Quartel 9th Oct 2017

Conflict and differing opinions are to be expected inside any diverse group. How to quickly resolve this conflict in a way that leaves all parties feeling that they are respected and have been heard is vital to the ongoing health of the tribe. I don’t have a master recipe for emotional safety as much as some ideas for your consideration for your own journey into self-organization.

When things go wrong, as they inevitably do with something as precarious as self-organizing teams, safety devices need to be in place. - Steve Denning

Decision-Making Protocols

Some options:

  • Decider protocol (from the Core Protocols)
  • Fist of five
  • Quorum (what size is the quorum and what is its composition?)
  • 100% Consensus
  • Roman voting
  • Dot voting
  • Majority vote (including size of the majority e.g. 51%, 75%)
    • The advice process (See also "Reinventing Organizations" and "The Decision Maker" in the Further Reading section below)
  • Experimentation: Treat multiple options as experiments and run with all of them checking in often to decide if/when it’s time to call one a clear winner

Whatever decision-making protocol you choose, it must allow for all voices to be heard equally otherwise we are creating emotional pain for the quieter and often more introverted team members. The softest voice in the room should have as much sway as the loudest voice.

Conflict Resolution Protocols

Some options on how to resolve two people’s disagreements or when an individual feels mistreated e.g. bullied:

  • Escalation path e.g. Conversation -> Mediation -> Arbitration (used by Morning Star)
  • Abdication: Revert to hierarchical command and control and have a manager decide
  • Jury: Have a jury of (insert number) peers deliberate and decide
  • Lewis Method

Constitution / Working Agreement

Once you have ratified the mechanics of how decisions are made and conflicts resolved, be sure to include these in your tribe’s Working Agreement or Constitution document.

I also suggest considering some or all:

  • Where do we document our decisions?
  • How and when do we ratify decisions into rules?
  • What is the process for changing the rules?
  • What decisions require the entire tribe’s involvement vs smaller groups?
  • What decisions require management’s involvement?

Broader Management Issues

Management 3.o has a great tool called the Delegation Board that addresses the issue of which decisions should be kept by management and which can be moved down to the tribe i.e. decentralized control. The process comes with an accompanying tool called Delegation Poker which can help you discover just what level of autonomy is the best fit for your tribe.

While autonomy and self-organization are a path to high performance, collaboration isn’t for everyone. You will need to create hiring, onboarding and offboarding strategies to help weed out non-collaborators as early as possible. Also, consider what the process is for those that deviate from the working agreements.

Further Reading and Resources

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink


Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

by Frederic Laloux et al.


The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time

by Dennis Bakke


(A novel about the advice process)

The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century

by Stephen Denning


Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization

by Doug Kirkpatrick


Modern Agile

Make Safety a Prerequisite