Ritual Dissent – getting better proposals and dealing with saboteurs

Ritual Dissent is one of my favourite facilitation techniques. It gets good results quickly and is great for dealing with the saboteurs (see spotting field sabotage post). I was taught it by Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge who also provides a method statement.

It’s a very structured approach that minimises the opportunities for the saboteurs to do bad things. Essentially you develop a proposal, idea or whatever and then have it subjected to ‘ritual dissent’ by another group. The process generates really robust proposals and ideas that will live in the real world. I find it’s a great improvement on the more nebulous ideas you often get through the round the table, consensus developing approaches.

The ‘ritual dissent’ bit really is ritualised and a bit of a trial. Once the person presenting the proposal to the second group has finished speaking, they physically turn their back on the group and just actively listen.

This does three things that I’ve seen:

  1. It focuses the dissent on the idea itself and not the person presenting……. ‘what is wrong with this idea’………..not a snipe at the presenter.
  2. It removes any body language from the discussion. A potentially powerful tool for both sides.
  3. It makes the person with their back turned listen. It’s not been called an ‘forced listening technique for nothing.

Once the person has ‘listened’, they return to their group and improve the proposal based upon what they have heard.  You can repeat the ritual dissent cycle a couple of times, and even throw in an ‘assent’ phase where the group can only suggest helpful improvements.

One of my best experiences using Ritual Dissent was facilitating the development of a medium term plan with a Strategic Leadership Team. After sitting with their back turned on their colleagues, listening, the Director calmly announced; “that’s the first time I’ve actually listened in years ……if I had been receiving that face to face I would have been eyeballing you lot…..  In fact I wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut”. If you ask me, that outcome had to be a good  thing.

So what does it mean for the saboteurs, well they hate it.  A tight structure with clear tasks reduces the opportunity for mischief.  When it comes to the dissent part, it’s surprising how quiet they can be, even in a group. They don’t like the sunlight very much. Just as importantly to produces robustly tested proposals and ideas that will stand up to scrutiny in the real world.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Ritual Dissent is a great facilitation method. It gets robust results quickly and makes people actively listen.
  2. Structure and tasks are a good way of involving everyone and minimising the opportunities for saboteurs
  3. If you intend to use the technique, make sure you download the method statement, it really helped me.
An extreme reponse to ritual dissent
An extreme response to ritual dissent

Having your back turned really forces you to listen, and not eyeball the dissenters, unless you pull a stunt like this. Nice one!

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joe469/3708318542/

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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