Unilateralism – And What To Do About It


“Unilateralism” is a word describing a predisposition to actions “undertaken or done by or on behalf of one side, party, or faction only”. This is the opposite to mutualism – a predisposition to actions “undertaken, experienced, performed, etc., by each of two or more with respect to the other”.

Unilateralism abounds in the workplace: individuals or groups taking decisions without regard to the needs, feelings or concerns of others. Unilateralism often contributes to disengagement, pique, frustration, low morale and learned helplessness.

The Advice Process

Many believe that for mutual action we must find consensus. However, another option exists: The Advice Process.

A counterpoint to unilateralism, the Advice Process suggests that whenever we have a decision to make, we first take steps to find out everyone who might be affected by our decision, and then seek their advice. This in itself might require we seek advice – as to who to go ask, for example. Once the needs, opinions and concerns of others involved or potentially affected have been received, we may then advise them as to our intended course of action, and then take that action.

This differs from seeking consensus in that we are not bound to have everyone in agreement before proceeding. It’s up to us, having sought, considered and then reflected advice, to decide whether and how to proceed.


The Advice Process allows us to get on with things in the absence of consensus. Folks that have been consulted feel less coerced or ignored and thus more likely to buy into the action, or at least not oppose it. And the mutuality of the advice process means they might feel better placed to act similarly, to the benefit of the organisation as a whole.


Some Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches like to have a checklist against which to check their daily, weekly or monthly performance. Unilaterally composing this checklist can alienate the team and serve as a negative example re: taking advice. Drawing up a checklist through consensus can take forever, and again may serve as a negative example for the team (they see the time and pain it takes, and resolve not to have checklists for themselves).

Drawing up a checklist using the Advice Process can however serve as a positive example, it being speedy and relatively painless. And having, and from time to time updating, the checklist can help everyone focus on the positive aspects of the role of Scrum Masters, and checklists, alike.

Other People

If you’re bugged by others’ unilateralism – and who isn’t? – options are fewer. After all, we can’t make them change their behaviour. And the very idea smacks of unilateralism, in itself. May I invite you to consider the benefit of empathising with those unilateralists? At the very least, it might make you feel better. And there’s an outside chance they might come round to being ready to hear your concerns – and even to hearing your advice on dealing with those concerns.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Advice Process ~ Daniel Tenner

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