Single-leader vs multi-leader vs leaderless conflict resolution

Jason Yip
2 min readDec 24, 2022

Any distributed social system will inevitably have conflicts that need resolution.

That is, when you have a bunch of different people and teams working on a shared goal, you will inevitably have disagreements that need some way of being resolved.

Single-leader

3 pairs of people going to a single leader to resolve disagreement
Disagreements go to a single leader to resolve
  • Any disagreement goes to a single leader to resolve.
  • Ensures that all decisions are coherent (assuming the single leader is coherent).
  • Can have significant delays at-scale given the bottleneck on the single leader.

Multi-leader

3 pairs of people disagreeing going to a local leader to resolve. The 3 leaders are also coordinating to resolve inconsistencies.
Disagreements go to local leaders to resolve; local leaders coordinate to resolve inconsistencies
  • Disagreements go to a local leader to resolve, who then coordinates with other leaders. Decisions are eventually coherent as the different leaders resolve inconsistencies.
  • If the leaders themselves disagree, some method is required to resolve (which itself could be single-leader, multi-leader, or leaderless)
  • There is less delay at-scale than with single-leader, but multiple-leader setup tends to be more complicated.

Leaderless

On top: shared decision principles and beliefs + pre-agreed conflict resolution process. Below: 3 pairs of people resolving their disagreements themselves.
Disagreement are resolved peer-to-peer without leaders
  • Disagreements are resolved peer-to-peer by referencing a shared set of decision principles, beliefs, etc. and a pre-agreed conflict resolution process.
  • If leaderless consensus can’t be reached, some tie-breaking method may be required (which could be single-leader or multi-leader)

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl