The Power Of The "NO"- Person

There are many ways to promote organisational agility but none of them involves a black-and-white approach to decision-making. However, this is how many organisations approach the topic.

When it comes down to it, a business decision may come down to a few options that members must choose from. It becomes an either-or decision. And the general sentiment is that if nine out of ten people say ‘yes’, the tenth man simply loses the vote. 

Unfortunately, that last man standing could be the difference between improving your strategies and playing into your weaknesses. That tenth man who says no when everyone else agrees brings complexity into your decision-making. 

They also highlight potential volatilities, uncertainties, and flaws in the popular choice. They become the practical representation of the devil’s advocate, providing objectivity and giving nuance in a situation that may otherwise seem black and white.

What Is The 10th Man Rule?

What we’ve touched on above is known as the 10th Man Rule or 10th Man Strategy. The basis of the concept is that if nine out of ten people agree on a decision or course of action, the tenth must oppose this decision. 

While this may happen organically, organisations can use the rule intentionally by allocating a 10th man or "no"-person. This can be an internal member of your company or an external critic. Then, in the case that all nine or an overwhelming majority are in agreement, this individual can provide a contrasting stance. 

As in a devil’s advocate situation, this person performs their opposition to highlight the weaknesses in an argument, idea, or popular decision. That way, your business can consider all possible alternatives.


What Are The Benefits Of The Rule?

Using this strategy can:

  • Help your organisation develop numerous strategies to achieve the same goal. If the primary plan falls through, your team can simply pull from one of the ready-made options and still achieve the required end.
  • Improve organisational agility as your business can prepare for potential changes or challenges discovered through the 10th Man.
    Set you apart from the competition as your business will have considered deeper factors affecting your projects.
  • Ensure you keep abreast of metrics, milestones, performance stats, and other insights. The uncertainty encouraged by the 10th Man can ensure your team remains cautious about the results of the decision. This prompts you to monitor your performance with more care, which can prove beneficial if the chosen strategy fails.
  • The 10th Man approach helps spotlight some of the nuances raised by a VUCA approach to decision making. As touched on already, this individual’s contrasting perspective can point to flaws and weaknesses in an idea or argument. This includes highlighting the volatility, uncertainties, complexities, and ambiguities that may be inherent in the popular position.

How To Use The Rule Productively

Here are four ways that you can use the 10th Man Rule and VUCA productively.

1. Use predictive analytics and forecasting

Predictive analytics target volatility and uncertainty. While analytics can support an existing trend, they can also point to possible changes in your market or industry. Thus, analytics can act as the 10th Man does; they can encourage your business to consider alternative realities or options.

A great option to consider is to grant the opposing individual some time to prepare their argument against the popular choice. With time, they can use stats and other empirical data to present their argument. That way, analytics and other data serves to support the devil’s advocate process and really back up their position.


2. Integrate a 10th Man challenge into planning processes

It’s important that the individual chosen to play this role is always present in vital planning or strategy sessions. They should also have access to all the information guiding the decision or planning. This gives them the foundation they need to fulfil their role.

You can take this a step further by including a 10th Man idea challenge close to the end of the planning process. In this step, the devil’s advocate can ask questions to investigate the idea in relation to markets, company resources, internal challenges, and more. 

This ‘hot seat’ questioning approach will either validate the plan or indicate its major flaws. Either way, the challenge will act as an evaluation of the plan.


3. Develop contingency planning

You can also use the Rule to develop contingencies that eliminate narrative bias by introducing complexities. In this case, the 10th Man will be responsible for coming up with viable alternatives to the popular plan. This can be done in conjunction with suggestion #2 or on its own.

The individual will present their alternative options to the other members of the management team. If there is a more suitable choice from their options, the company can revert to that option. If not, the team can enhance the existing plan using elements of the alternatives. They can then organise the alternatives from best to least suitable and keep them on file as contingency plans.


4. Cultivate a VUCA-based and 10th-Man-friendly culture

Although both are fantastic strategies, VUCA and the 10th Man cannot work if unsupported by your workplace culture.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to romanticise the perspectives of your 10th Man. Their views should be a source of healthy debate rather than just another added step in the decision-making process.


Final Thoughts

VUCA and the 10th Man can transform and improve how your organisation approaches decision-making. The Rule is a low- to no-cost way to enhance your company’s risk analysis, encourage objective perspectives, and improve organisational agility. 

With the Rule, you can analyse ideas, plans, and decisions while taking into account the volatilities, uncertainties, complexities, and ambiguities that may affect them. It's an amazing tool and ideology that encourages effective planning and the four tips above can help you get started with it today!


If your organisation is looking for a tool to involve all employees, have a look at Falcony | Observe. It enables your staff to participate in creating clarity on non-conformities, prevent and decrease the amount of friction in cross-team communications and gather actionable data while doing these.


We are building the world's first operational involvement platform. Our mission is to make the process of finding, sharing, fixing and learning from issues and observations as easy as thinking about them and as rewarding as being remembered for them.‍

By doing this, we are making work more meaningful for all parties involved.

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