How to make better decisions
As managers and team members we made dozens of decisions every day. Some are straightforward – do we have the budget to spend money on a programme or intervention? Which employee should we involve in a project, which supplier should we use or where should we go for the team lunch? But in an increasingly complex world within matrix teams making decisions – and sticking to them – is a bit more complicated.
It starts with understanding who the main decision-maker is. And although it is a simple question, getting to a clear answer could be tricky. In my work with clients, I see the havoc it can wreak if more than one person believe that the decision is theirs to make. Because people have differing agendas, different decisions made by more than one person is impossible to implement. It leads to in-fighting, confusion and mistrust. Often, these decisions are re-visited leading to time wasted and decreased effectiveness.
It’s almost as bad when no-one makes a decision. This is usually the result of not wanting to make a mistake, worrying about stepping on others’ toes or being caught in a culture with a low risk-tolerance. This leads to the organisation getting caught up in lethargy and not being able to be responsive to the market. Many organisations find themselves deciding only when it’s too late to make use of an opportunity in the market.
Not all decisions are equal, either. In a team I worked in, there was an unwritten rule that everyone should support every decision. That’s not possible. Yes, it is important to have everyone’s input, and to ensure that all the voices are heard otherwise people find it difficult to support a decision. But it’s untrue that everyone must agree. There are many ways to make a decision:
- Authority: The person in charge makes the decision. It gets done quickly and works well where decisive leadership is needed.
- Consultative: The team or experts are involved in the decision by giving their input, but one person makes the decision. Buy-in is usually good because people feel heard and raised their opinions. It is a decisive model which uses the team’s skills and expertise. It’s critical to do this with respect and trust so that it does not appear artificial.
- Majority: the team votes and the majority vote wins. This works if a decision needs to be taken quickly and a clear way is not evident. This relies on people’s skills at influencing because team members would support the argument that is most convincing. It can create competition in the team and divide the team, and the majority is not always right.
- Consensus: Everyone is involved in the discussion until a decision is reached that everyone can agree with. This creates full buy-in and can ignite creative thinking. However, this takes a lot of time to arrive at a decision and may involve compromise.
- Expert: The decision is made by the acknowledged expert. Use this when the decision requires expertise. Buy-in is usually good especially where the expert is respected. If the expert is not accepted, it will lead to uncertainty and low buy-in.
Ensure that your team makes better decisions, and implement them, by following these steps:
- Clarify whose decision it is. If there’s ambiguity, spend time and effort on clarifying it. This will be time well spent because it will save on decisions being revisited.
- Clarify who has input into the decision. And remember – that does not necessarily mean everyone in the team. Identify who are the subject matter experts and whose voices need to be heard, and include them, and only them, in the input to the decision. Ensure that they know that their role is that of recommender, and not the decision maker.
- When the decision is made, be clear on communicating it to the relevant parties. Include the rationale and the context so that people understand why. If possible, support the team with a “script” that they can take to their stakeholders to ensure that the message does not get diluted.
- Review decisions that were made to ascertain if they were good decisions. We can learn from our mistakes and bad decisions are a great learning opportunity.
Contact us to run a workshop for your team to establish a process for making better decisions.