Smoke-Filled Room

Alias: Brown Bar, Cabale

Smoking room, Paul Smith's Casino, Adirondack Mountains in LockEmUpTogether, an enterprise comprises a diverse group of people with varying positions, and find themselves in a context where they are a bit afloat with respect to their assumptions about going forward. This may be precipitated during the early stages of a new group or as a result of a externally imposed policy change. 

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An organization must make a timely decision about urgent strategic directions.
You would like everyone involved to have a say in the decision, and in particular, would like all stakeholders to have a say in the decision. 

However, in organizations where accountability does not naturally align with authority and responsibility, a consensus process is not favorably viewed. For example, if team members are not viewed as having the legal power, or positional authority, or even the experience to make a key business decision, their participation in a consensus process is viewed as that of a "loose canon on deck." 

And sometimes the need for expediency thwarts a consensus process, or even a socialized accounting of the decision process. And additional political forces can cause individuals or groups to want to keep secret the rationales for a given decision, or to eliminate some people from the decision process because they may be affected by the decision in ways that power holders feel would weaken their objectivity. 


Make the decision among power brokers as in the storied smoke-filled rooms stereotypically associated with tycoonbusinessmen. Publicize the decision, but either keep the rationale private or rationalize why selected stakeholders were prevented from being part of the process. Note that having to keep the rationale private because of political concerns indicates significant problems in the culture. 

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This is a pattern to be used sparingly in the right context to balance the right forces. Overuse of this pattern strains patterns such as EngageCustomersDomainExpertiseInRolesEngageQualityAssuranceArchitectControlsProduct, etc. 

Examples include most decisions about corporate takeovers and mergers, which are viewed more as business phenomena than as domain phenomena. Another example is project cancellations, for the same reason.