…Decisions, Decisions…

Jul 30, 2010 1 Comment by

There are a lot of ways for change leaders and teams to make decisions.  When it comes to executing on significant change, sometimes the difference between success and failure is how quickly and how well people in your organization make key decisions.

Five ways to make decisions and when to use each:

Full Consensus

Using this approach, the leader defers a decision to the team and trusts that they will come up with the best answer.  Full consensus works well if the team is already highly functional and the motivations for on the table. (no hidden agendas!)  The upsides of this approach: the best possible buy-in to the resulting decision.  Downsides: might take considerably longer than all of the other approaches and the Leader may feel as if they do not have enough control of the outcome.

Facilitated Consensus – For teams that might be a bit more contentious, the leader may want to consider using a neutral facilitator to guide the decision-making process.  (emphasis on the word neutral)  The leader still trusts the group to get through the decision-making process without escalation – the team just needs some structure and nudging. Upsides: great buy-in to the result and reinforced teamwork.  Downsides: takes longer, the leader still doesn’t have a lot of influence and this method bears additional resource cost for the facilitator role.

There are a few risks associated with voting as a decision-making approach...

Majority Rules – When working with very large groups, it’s nearly impossible to expect everyone to agree to a consensus decision.  In this case, it can be useful to go with the group’s majority opinion.  The upside: decisions are very quick.  The downside: the “losers” may have very little ownership of the chosen result – especially if they are on the short end of the vote routinely.  Warning: internal politics tend to develop when majority techniques are used extensively.

Directed Decision with Input – One of the most effective ways to make decisions in an organization where the leader wants their signature on the decisions is the directed decision with input.  In this scenario, the leader has the additional work of gathering input from stakeholders before considering the facts and impacts.  They weight the options based on the opinions and data supplied by the team – but they still maintain ownership of the decision.  Upsides: clarity of ownership for the result and the leader can control how long the process takes.  Downsides: risk of less buy-in than the consensus-driven models and extra work for the leader.

Of course there are times when the team needs someone to just step up and make a decision...

Fully Directed Decision – Probably the least popular approach to making decisions (at least from the team members’ frame of reference) is the leader-directed decision.  This method may be appropriate when the leader has special knowledge that the team doesn’t have access to or there is simply not enough time to consult team members.  (think of real-time battlefield decisions)  Another case is when a leader is charged with implementing a strategy the starts out unpopular, but is known to be the “right thing to do” and they have the full commitment of the executives within the organization. Upside: very quick and very clear.  Downsides: this style may leave the leader open to gaps in their understanding of the data or context for a decision and carries the least employee ownership of the result among all methods.

– Steve

  • So what has been your experience with decision-making approaches?
  • Have you been in a situation where the team or the leader clearly used the WRONG method?
  • Is there a better method that I have left off the list?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “…Decisions, Decisions…”

  1. Lessons From the Zoo | theBigRocks of Change says:

    […] Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen: Conflict may arise over who’s in charge if several team members consider themselves the de facto leader. It can help to define clear leadership roles where necessary and also indicate which decision-making processes will be operated by consensus, which by directive authority, etc. (see my post “Decisions, Decisions” for more) […]

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