Decisions, decisions decisions

– 6 decision-making processes that will help a team make fast quality decisions.

I sometimes use a simple exercise as an icebreaker with any new group or team I work with. It is a simple maths challenge, adding up 8 numbers that appear in a vertical column on the screen in a slow reveal. The challenge I give the group is to shout out the answer as soon as they know it. It is an interesting exercise as the way the numbers are revealed tends to trick our predictive brains into giving the wrong answer. What is really interesting however is the number of people in the group, (usually around c25-30%) who do not shout out any answer at all; despite competitive peer pressure to do so. Even though the sum is something any 8 year old child would easily get right.

The reason for this silence I believe is not a sudden temporary loss of simple mathematical intelligence. It is an in-built fear of giving the wrong answer and potentially looking foolish in front of peers. This is the same fear that makes taking decisions in a team a difficult thing to do well. This in-built fear of failure needs to be overcome if good quality decisions are needed and in this short article I offer you 6 alternative decision making processes that can help you make better decisions when working in teams.

making decisions

Step 1 – Make sure a decision is needed.

All 6 alternative processes start with the same step, the recognition that a decision needs to be taken and needs to be taken now! This is only true if the consequences of not taking the decision now are clear and compelling. It can occasionally make sense to delay decisions to the last possible moment so current reality gets the best chance to offer as many clues as possible and the uncertainty of the future can be minimised.

However, to balance this desire to delay, it should be remembered that you get one thing by taking a quick decision that you never get by delaying and that is the window of opportunity to change the decision if it turns out to be wrong! The longer you delay a decision the longer uncertainty of action remains and therefore the window of opportunity to change the decision could well close. We have all seen decisions that get made that are well past their use by date….

The 6 decision making options….. 

Democracy – Get everyone’s views and vote to select the most popular outcome with the Chairman taking the casting vote if necessary. The advantages of this process are that it appears to be fair, the majority get their way and it is relatively quick to do. The disadvantages are that it creates an opposition and the role of the opposition is to oppose, so it is not a great process for gaining commitment from all and should not be used for decisions that require full commitment.

Autocracy hard – Here the person who has the most authority in the group makes the decision and states their reasons. This is the quickest of all 6 decision making processes and it produces clear accountability as everyone is left in no doubt who has taken the decision. It of course does very little to gain commitment from the rest of the team – the leader is making a withdrawal from their ‘credibility bank’ and if their account is in ‘credit’ then they will receive support, if not the they will not. This process also relies on the leader knowing best, which for many decisions is not the case, so it is the least effective of the options available and should only be used when there is a real emergency to deal with. 

Autocracy soft – If a quick decision is needed and compliance rather than commitment is required then this is the best of the 6 options to use. The person with the most authority makes it clear that they intend making the decision but before they declare what their decision is they ask everyone in the team to state what they would do if they were them and why? This process has two real advantages over hard autocracy, it lets the leader see who will support the decision they are about to declare and it creates the opportunity for them to change their mind if they hear a compelling argument or insight they had not thought of.

 Meritocracy %

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