complex decision making and antonyms

Having returned from the Cynefin retreat on Decision Making and perception, the concepts and discussions are still working their way through my thinking.

Discussions and working through decision-making

Following two days of faculty discussions with a request to keep the state of divergence, we moved into a period of synthesis. Working to understand how to make sense of what we learned followed some good practices in decision-making.

  1. The idea of gathering + listening to information that comes from a wide variety (scanning and diversity);
  2. allowing-allotting the team to avoid discussing application or synthesis for as long as possible. Once you chose an action, we will debate the merits of the work and fail to recognize alternative options that may be better or worse;
  3. framing the process of synthesis as one of curiosity – wander through ideas;
  4. also, using groupthink for progress, mixed with breaking these teams up and challenging the ideas in new mixed teams.
  5. completing this decision-making process with more resilient choices that use complexity and uncertainty as a shared method.
Antonyms to contrast decision making stories

The use of antonyms – two words that are similar and can be different in meaning – in decision making struck me as fun and powerful.

How to use antonyms for decision-making contrasts

Having a shared process to contrast ideas or suggestions for a decision has a profound impact.

  • We can create a familiar or new language to describe outcomes or factors.
  •  We can identify what matters and use that to compare ideas.
  •  We can find small nuances in how you and others use the word and enhance our understanding and discussion of the decision.
  •  We can use the antonyms to point to hyperbole or hypocrisy within our work systems.
Using antonyms as a decision-making process
  1. We first agree on the decision to be made.
  2. The team creates a series of one-word criteria. Possibly listing distinctions, commonalities, areas of agreements + disagreement, values, descriptions, feeling, and how the customer or whomever the decision will impact will feel or see the decision.
  3. From the one-word criteria, develop an antonym that goes with each word.
  4. Break the group into smaller teams and have each side choose two or three antonym pairs. If you are working with a small team or by yourself, select some antonym pairs that are more relevant to work through and keep the remaining antonym pairs on the wall.
  5. For each antonym pair ask the teams to work through the story matrix below.
  6. Write the responses on flipchart paper and hang them on the walls.
  7. Allow each person time to walk around and read + view each of the antonym pair matrixes.
  8. Following some time and discussion move to another phase of decision-making synthesis or move to decision and direction for the team.
Antonym Decision-Making Matrix


The decision to be made:

           How will we retain staff that is 35 and younger?

Antonym Pair:

           Connect – Enact

What is it?

Connect – Bring people together to find commonalities and connection to the organization. When people connect, they show trust and membership (in-group).

How will you see it?

  • Everyone has someone to eat lunch with (especially the 1st three-weeks of employment)
  • Managers & Managers-Once-Removed have scheduled & are holding coaching + mentoring meetings.
  • People are involved in one area or project that is outside their specified role or work area.
  • In meetings, everyone uses first names.
  • A staff person under 35 leads the new work projects.

What is it?

Enact – Individuals can enact their will and ethic to be valued and do their best work. When people enact, they are purposely choosing to struggle and work through challenges in work to make progress.

How will you see it?

  • In meetings, discourse & open disagreement will be heard & encouraged.
  • People are actively seeking opportunities & recognition for great work.
  • Majority of staff complete work or tasks outside the meeting or project update times.
  • Staff under 35 will request or volunteer to lead new projects.
  • In coaching & mentoring meetings, requests will be made to take on work that is of interest.
Decision-Making is better when contrasted.

This practice of developing antonyms will be useful in creating contrast, discussing differences that matter, and how you will notice these differences. As you listen and read the multiple antonym pair your preconceptions of how to decide will be stretched and move outside yourself to see how others identify or view things.

Complex decision-making is stronger when the choices and ideas are stretched, manipulated, and challenged – this is how you create psychological-safety in teams.

Your decisions are better with a diversity of challenges, multiple levels of agreement, plus disagreement out of equilibrium. The use of antonym pairs in decision-making is one way to make progress within your work.