Governance for contentious decisions

“Hope for the best, but plan for the worst”

Rules for viable ownership:

  1. Team owner reserves the right to make the final decision: The team owner has power to make final decisions in any team domain or delegate final decisions to someone else under the team owner’s supervision.

To prevent unintentionally shutting down discussions on contentious issues this “final” power has to be explicitly invoked and until it is invoked the owner is merely participating in the discussion.

  1. Team members will respect decisions they don’t agree with: no member of the team shall passively resist a decision they don’t agree or actively resist (e.g., sabotage) decisions they don’t agree with

  2. Team can fire owner: A supermajority of team members has a right to unanimously override any decision made by the team owner. This team override fires the team owner by default.

Justifying principles:

  • Lack of consensus cannot lead to paralysis or endless power struggles
  • Nobody capable of leadership will agree to be the face for a failure beyond his control
  • The team owner is responsible for failure, therefor the team owner must have the ultimate power to prevent failure
  • There can be no power without responsibility and no responsibility without power
  • If no one owns failure, failure is inevitable.

This is a micro form of the tragedy of commons. The team needs X to be done, but nobody wants to do X and prefers someone else do it because X isn’t fun or interesting, so X doesn’t get done and team fails.


  • Contentious decisions backed by the power of authority should be a last resort
  • The best practice is to discuss decisions, and only if agreement cannot be reached explain the rational behind contentious decisions either in real-time or after the fact (e.g., after a fire has been put out)
  • There is a dose/benefit curve to discussion. The dose makes the poison. Too little discussion increases the risks of poorly informed decisions that team members do not feel enthusiastic about. Discussion after all views have been expressed and understood is unproductive and so is debate as a war of attrition
  • Contentions thrive on knowledge gaps. The more our information pool is identical, the less likely our derived opinions to differ. Knowledge gaps tend to start small and increase exponentially. Periodic strategy calls can act as a pressure valve that prevents knowledge-gap buildups. Therefore, to avoid getting to a point where this procedure is triggered, we shall have as much team discussions as necessary to keep everyone in the loop. In these discussions, no topic is off the table, just as long as each topic is discussed on its own merit and doesn’t become a personal attack on a team member.