Integrating objections is at the heart of the governance meeting process. We don’t want to solve one tension only to create another — we might as well not even have the meeting. So, integration is there to make sure we always move forward.
More specifically, the goal of integration is to amend the proposal, one objection at a time, so that the new proposal no longer causes the objection, while still resolving the proposer’s original tension.
Usually, the Facilitator starts by asking the objector, “What can be added or changed to remove that issue?” but anyone can contribute to the discussion as long as they are trying to help resolve the issue.
Don’t wait for consensus — instead, stop and check out each idea by asking the objector, “Would this resolve your objection?” and if it does, then asking the proposer, “Would this still address your tension?” After all objections are integrated, you have a new proposal, so repeat objection round.
General Advice for Integrating any Objection
- The facilitator should start integrating an objection by addressing the person who raised it. The question, “What can be added or changed in the proposal to remove that issue?” is preferred to colloquial alternatives like “What do you suggest?” or “Any ideas?” It’s precisely the recommended question’s unfamiliarity that focuses the objector’s thinking. This question can be asked or repeated any time.
- In general, start by integrating any Not Valid Governance Output (NVGO) objections because these objections are usually straightforward and often resolve other objections (usually more complicated ones) along the way. You can read more coaching around integrating NVGO objections here.
- Overall, small tweaks to the proposal are preferred to elegant solutions. However, resolving some objections require more even a complete refactoring of the proposal. In these cases, shift focus from the proposal to the proposer’s original tension by asking, “What was the original tension again?” Or, “What was the example you gave?” Remember, the original proposal was just a starting point. Both objector and proposer should be more interested in no-longer-having-their-respective problems than getting any particular solution (i.e. “Remember, anything that will solve the tension is fair game.”)
- Immediately and awkwardly disrupt the discussion when objector and proposer seem satisfied. Getting governance processed is more important than having a “good” discussion and I’ve observed otherwise skillful facilitators fail to notice or lock-onto a viable suggestion once it’s surfaced. Etiquette requires patience, but good integration requires leopard-like reflexes. Pounce! Even subtle body language can signal something may work. Stop all other discussion and get clear. “What suggestion was just made?” And then immediately have the Secretary capture it on the scratchpad for confirmation.
- Consider “punting” the issue. If the conversation keeps going in circles with no end in sight, suggest creating a new role to figure the whole mess out. This is effectively like punting the issue downfield, but it’s a great way to break a logjam (e.g. “What about a new role with an accountability for figuring all of this out?”) For example, a role proposes a policy to lower prices by 10%, but another role objects. They go back and forth trying to figure out what percentage will work (3%, 5%, 15%?), but they simply don’t have enough data in the room. So, instead of even trying to solve that problem, just propose a role with an accountability like, “Defining pricing models for services.” This is especially useful for HR-type issues (e.g. hiring, firing, onboarding, etc.) because newly-practicing-organizations must translate these processes and standards into proper governance, yet they often lack the knowledge to do it effectively on the spot.
- For further guidance on resolving difficult integrations see Getting Stuck and Unstuck in Integration.
Common Mistakes Transitioning from Objections to Integration
- While it is better to integrate an invalid objection than to invalidate a valid objection, doing so needlessly complicates integration and should be avoided. To assist with this, the constitution says any circle member may ask the facilitator to retest an objection in integration [3.2.6a]. This is useful when the integration discussion reveals new data about the objection, which was undisclosed or unnoticed during testing. When requesting this, ask directly and clearly, and share whatever information you think relevant (e.g. “I’d like to ask the facilitator to test this objection because I don’t think the tension is felt from one of the objector’s roles.”)
- Facilitators sometimes hear, “Yes, I have an objection,” but they don’t stop to test it and instead move on to the next person. This is a mistake. Objections should be captured* and tested as each participant is engaged. Meaning, the facilitator should ask each participant in turn, “Objection or no objection?” and if they have an objection, “What is your objection?”Each objection should then be captured on the scratchpad, tested, and if valid, saved for integration.
*I advise facilitators to write down an objection before, not after testing it. I use the words “capture” to signify an untested-but-written-down-objection, versus an objection that has passed the tests and has been “charted” or “saved” for integration.
- Once in integration, the facilitator should resolve all saved objections before closing integration (and moving back into another objection round). The common mistake is to consider integration complete after integrating only a single objection. This misunderstanding results from the observation that the current proposal has been modified and therefore the previously saved objections may or may not still apply. However, the proper way to process this is simply to remove any indirectly resolved objections from the saved list (i.e. Ask the objector, “Do you still have this objection?”)
- Integration is highly structured, though it needn’t feel rigid. The transition into integration signifies a shift in what defines appropriate participation. People couldn’t just talk before. Now they can. Make this shift in energy clear (e.g. “In integration the energy is different from the other steps.”) However, the facilitator still needs to structure the conversation and over-structuring is very common. If the discussion feels too stilted or mechanical, simply request that the facilitator give you, “more space to talk it out.”
- Having clear objections always makes integration easier. But objections rarely come out fully formed. This is why participants should consider objection-testing as a supportive process (i.e. Facilitator: “Don’t worry about your objection being valid or not, just raise it and we’ll figure it out together through testing.”) As previously stated, having the objector explain their objection orally isn’t enough. Documenting the specifics of the objection not only helps participants keep track of where they are in the process, but also reveals misunderstandings before they cause trouble.
- If someone has the same objection as one that is already been tested as valid, then they needn’t raise it (typically expressed as, “No new objection,” or “+1 to the previous objection”). This isn’t needed and worse, it creates confusion. The testing criteria determine validity, not the number of votes it gets. In these cases, the objector who raised that issue will essentially represent anyone else who may have felt a similar tension during integration. This is because objections, like tensions, need to be clearly owned and processed by one person. Since there is always another objection round after integration, there is no need to “+1” because everyone will get another chance to raise an objection if they still have it.