Hartnett's Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making Model

Developing Solutions Collectively

Group Decision

Involve everyone in the decision-making process.

© iStockphoto/urbancow

You've just brought your team together to kick-off a new project.

However, you quickly run into problems agreeing the right way forward.

Juan, the most dominant member of your team, immediately makes a suggestion and starts talking about its benefits.

Katherine begins arguing with him, claiming that her idea is more efficient.

Kerry, who often has brilliant ideas, is too overwhelmed by Juan and Katherine to speak up.

You're soon ready to abandon the meeting!

If you work in a team, then this scenario may sound familiar. It can be difficult to get a group of people to reach consensus on a decision, especially when personalities, viewpoints, and attitudes clash.

In some situations, you can cut through these problems with decisive leadership (our article on the Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model   helps you think about when this is appropriate). In other situations, you need to find another way forward.

This is where Hartnett's Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making (CODM) model is useful. In this article, we'll look at the CODM model, and we'll examine how you can apply it when you need to make a good group decision.

About the Model

The CODM model was developed by psychologist, Dr. Tim Hartnett, and it was published his 2010 book "Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making."

The model uses a seven-step process. The steps are:

  1. Framing the problem.
  2. Having an open discussion.
  3. Identifying underlying concerns.
  4. Developing proposals.
  5. Choosing a direction.
  6. Developing a preferred solution.
  7. Closing.

By using the model, you can get everyone in the group involved in developing a solution, so that each person feels ownership of the final decision. This helps you build a more productive, committed team.

The model also encourages people to come up with creative ideas without fear of being judged. This helps the group develops better solutions and make better decisions.

The model is most useful for complex projects and problems, where you need to decide on the best way forward, and where the solution to your problem isn't clear. However, you can tailor it to a variety of other situations as well.

Tip:

It's important to remember that consensus means general agreement, not total agreement. Although this model allows everyone to participate in developing solutions, not everyone will always agree with the final decision.

How to Apply the CODM Model

We'll now look at the seven steps in greater detail, and explore how you can apply the model with a group.

Tip:

Don't feel that you have to work through these steps all at once – sometimes it will take several meetings to complete the process, depending on the complexity of the decision that you need to make.

Step 1: Framing the Problem

In this first step, you need to ensure that you have the right people involved in the process, and that everyone has the information, tools, and resources needed to come up with good ideas.

As part of this, identify and define the problem that you need to address, if necessary using tools such as Cause and Effect Analysis   and Root Cause Analysis  .

You also need to decide how your group will choose between options in later stages (Hartnett calls this the "decision rule"). For instance, do you want everyone in the group to agree on the final decision unanimously, or will a simple majority suffice? (Our article on Organizing Team Decision-Making   looks at several techniques that you can use to make group decisions, and our article on facilitation   teaches the skills needed to lead the discussion.)

Step 2: Having an Open Discussion

Next, meet with the group, present the problem again, and encourage an open discussion. Your goal here is to generate as many initial ideas or solutions to the problem as possible.

Use tools such as Round-Robin Brainstorming  , Crawford's Slip Writing Method  , or the Stepladder Technique   to get everyone involved in the discussion.

If the discussion seems to be in a rut or your team is generating only "safe" ideas, use creative thinking techniques to encourage people to come up with fresh ideas.

Remember that your objective is to get people to think creatively and encourage all ideas, even if these seem impractical at this stage.

As you work through this step, note down all ideas, removing any duplicates. You'll return to this list in step 4.

Tip:

An alternative approach is to ask people to submit their initial ideas and solutions anonymously, before you meet face-to-face.

Step 3: Identifying Underlying Concerns

The next step is to identify what Hartnett calls "underlying concerns" – these are the constraints that you need to meet, and the problems that you want to solve, once you've made a decision. You'll then use this analysis to come up with and improve solutions in the next step of the process.

To do this, first identify key stakeholders (including people outside your organization) who are affected by the decision. (Depending on your situation, you can do this by simply brainstorming   stakeholders, or you can conduct a formal stakeholder analysis  .)

Then talk to these stakeholders, or brainstorm and list possible underlying concerns for each of them, again ensuring that everyone in the group participates in the discussion.

Tip:

Don't confuse underlying concerns with solutions in this step. For example, if the problem you're trying to solve is to increase the quality of a product, a solution might be to use better components. However, underlying concerns might be to keep costs to a minimum (for shareholders), or to be able to use the product for longer (for customers).

Step 4: Developing Proposals

Now, using the initial ideas that you came up with in step 2, your group can come up with proposals that address the underlying concerns identified in the previous step.

To do this, go through each idea in turn, and encourage everyone in the group to contribute to developing it into a possible solution.

Again, it's important that everyone is open-minded about the discussion, that everyone focuses on one idea at a time, and that people don't criticize any ideas.

By the end of this step, you will have developed initial ideas into more-detailed proposals that you can take forward. Don't dismiss any proposals yet.

Step 5: Choosing a Direction

You now need to decide on the best proposal to take forward.

Begin by going through each proposal in turn, asking group members to highlight what they think are the pros and cons of each one. Again, make sure that everyone is involved in the discussion.

Finally, decide on the best proposal to take forward, using the "decision rule" that you agreed on in step 1.

Step 6: Developing a Preferred Solution

The aim of this step it to look for ways to improve the final proposal further.

As part of this, look back at the underlying concerns that you identified in step 3. If there are any concerns that you haven't addressed, look for ways in which you can improve the proposal.

Again, encourage group members to raise any further issues, and amend the final proposal to address these.

Tip 1:

If you're developing a solution for a complex project, it may take a while to refine and amend your proposal and project documents.

Tip 2:

Depending on the type of decision, it may still not be worth going ahead with the best proposal. See our article on Go/No-Go Decision-Making   for more on this.

Step 7: Closing

By now, you should have a solution that most people in the group are happy with. To confirm this, use the "decision rule" that you identified in step 1 to ensure that there is still consensus to move forward with your decision.

Depending on your situation, you can also use this step as an opportunity to ask for everyone's cooperation in implementing the final decision. This cooperation can be anything from simply supporting others as they implement the solution, through to providing resources and expertise.

Tip 1:

Be flexible in how you apply each step of the process. As we highlighted earlier, in some situations it may not be necessary to work through each step in detail. You also need to be prepared to move back to previous steps, if you cannot decide on an appropriate solution.

Tip 2:

While seeking consensus within a group is important, be aware that people may use consensus as a way to avoid taking personal responsibility for their actions or decisions. Don't allow this to happen.

Key Points

The CODM model was developed by psychologist, Dr. Tim Hartnett, and was published in his 2010 book "Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making." You can use it to make better group decisions by involving everyone in developing a solution.

The model is most useful where you need to decide on the best way forward with complex projects and problems, and where the solution to your problem isn't clear.

There are seven steps that you can follow to use the model:

  1. Framing the issue.
  2. Having an open discussion.
  3. Identifying underlying concerns.
  4. Developing proposals.
  5. Choosing a direction.
  6. Developing a preferred solution.
  7. Closing.

Be flexible in how you apply the model – it won't always be necessary to work through each step in detail.

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Comment (1)
  • zuni wrote Over a month ago
    This is an excellent decision-making process and builds on the work of other participatory models. I was first introduced participatory decision-making when I worked in an adult education department of a university that focused on empowering marginalized groups, such as Native Canadians, African-Canadians, people with disabilities and women in poverty. I later honed my skills by taking a workshop through Interaction Associates. My experience at the university and the skills I learned in the workshop prepared me well for leading and working in teams as well as facilitating people to achieve results.

    As the article points out, there are some keys areas to watch out for. * Having a clear understanding of consensus is important. In some work cultures consensus means that everyone has to agree. I have often had to go back to the definition to expedite the decision-making process.

    * Determining the decision rule up front is critical, and I would add gaining agreement on the criteria that will be used to make the decision is equally as important. I have participated in a number of projects where decisions made by the group don't stick-the issue/problem continues to be challenged and debated long after a decision has been made.

    * And, watch out for teams that "jump to solutions". You will see this happening with high achievement, results oriented people who want to "get it done".

    Zuni

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