My original plan was to describe the simple decision taking technique which uses hand gestures (that originates core protocols). But I soon discovered it is not possible without giving some information about the sociocratically-powered decision making process that I learned from two sources Sociocracy 3.0 trainings and “Many voices, one song” book by Ted J. Rau (which presents a different flavour of sociocracy).
Imagine your team worked on some problem. Eventually, some of you prepared a proposal on how to solve it. Everyone had a chance to learn the details and also to ask the clarifying questions so that all the aspects of the proposal are well understood. Now you need to decide together if you agree to follow the proposal or you don’t.
Here is how you could do it in an efficient manner.
Form a circle (or at least make sure everyone can see others) and on the count of 3 every team member uses one of the three gestures – thumb up, shaking/weaving hand or palm up hand – to present their decision regarding the proposal.
If you think that this is silly or childish, read on, please. There’s more to this than meets the eye.
We will soon talk about how the decision is taken, but first let us have a look at each gesture (the hand gesture images are copied from freepik.com).
“I fully support the proposal”
No “buts”, no doubts, no worries – this is what you say when you agree with the proposal and you want the team to follow it.
“I have some doubts, but I still support it”
The weaving/shaking hand is a way you express your doubt. You think we should be fine if we follow the proposal but:
- you are afraid of some consequences,
- you doubt whether it will work as effectively as we hope it will.
Palm up hand
“I object to this proposal”
This is what you do when you don’t agree because your knowledge/experience allows you to say that this proposal won’t work for us (it won’t work at all or maybe will even backfire and harm us).
But what about thumb down?
First of all, why don’t we use thumb down to express that we reject the proposal? It looks cool (especially if you have the evil look of Joaquin Phoenix) and is well recognized.
The main reason is that we don’t want anyone to simply reject the proposal just like that. The thumb down gesture is like a big NO, it is kind of offensive and it expresses one’s dislike to the proposal. The author of the proposal might feel rejected the same way his proposal is being rejected with this thumb down gesture.
It is not about rejecting, it is about giving
This is not what we want. So why the palm up hand? This gesture makes perfect sense if you realize that:
Every objection is a gift.
Yep, it is a gift. I object, because I see how this proposal would be harmful. Maybe I have some insight you don’t have (yet), maybe I have a knowledge and/or experience that allows me to say that “it won’t work because of x, y and z”. By raising an objection I offer my knowledge & my reasoning so that we don’t make a mistake. It is a gift.
Mind you, we talk about objections based on reason, and not about the “no, because no”, “no because I don’t like you” or “no, because I’m more important than you” kind of objections.
Voting? No, it is not a voting
In sociocratic setting you don’t vote and you don’t seek the approval of majority. You take decision by consent (which is something different than consensus):
You decide to follow the proposal if there is no objection to it.
Which means there are only two possible outcomes:
- no one raised objection (no “palm up” gesture used) – which means the decision is taken and you can celebrate (yay!). It doesn’t matter if some people have doubts – if they haven’t objected it means they agreed.
- one or more people raised objections (by using “palm up” gesture). In such case the proposal is not accepted and you move into “objection resolving mode” (which is a part of sociocratic decision process that I won’t describe in details here – enough to say, that eventually you will end up with a different proposal and you once again you will try to reach consent).
Hey, but I have doubts and worries! Aren’t you interested?
In short: no, not really.
Interestingly, doubts and worries aren’t considered important enough to reject the proposal. Even more than this – they aren’t considered important enough even to be heard before the decision is taken! (It is up to facilitator to allow participants to share their points after the new proposal is celebrated because there is a chance there is some useful wisdom in what they want to share).
The consent concept is based on the idea that people feel when something is not acceptable and will rise their objections in such case. From my experience it seems that people truly feel when something is wrong, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted that they will actually rise their objections (because of: culture, assertiveness, relations, etc.).
But what if some doubts were actually true? You will probably soon find out, after you start following the proposal you’ve just accepted. In such case your decision process should be “flexible” enough so that you could change your decision in the face of new facts.
Another aspect of weaving/shaking hand is related to “personal preferences” (read the “Many voices, one song” book for more about the topic). This gesture lets you express them without bringing them up for discussion (which is usually a waste of time). The point is exactly to avoid the (pointless) discussion about personal preferences and move on. And that is why your doubts do not block the proposal.
Even if you do not buy the whole sociocratic decision taking process, you could still use hand gestures to speed up some decisions and avoid pointless blah, blah, blah. I hope you will find this technique useful!