Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Teams make lots of decisions, big and small. Effective teams have an agreed upon process for making decisions that is context specific. Effective decision making processes have several attributes. It requires:

  • Process
  • Team involvement
  • Commitment
  • Context

Process is sometimes perceived as a bad word. A simple decision process will include six steps:

  1. Define the problem. – This step ensures that the team knows the problem they are try to solve.
  2. Determine who is responsible for making the decision. – Depending on the type of problem a leader may have to make the decision or a more participative from of decision-making might be required.
  3. Involve the right people and a right sized group (Rule of 7) – Even in the most democratic teams every decision is not made by every team member. Each decision should be made by the minimum number of participants and AVOID large groups.
  4. Agree on how the decision will be made. – The team should decide how they will make the decision before they start to gather data and/or deliberate. Understanding how the decision will be made before you start can limit the possibility of analysis paralysis (analysis and decision making that goes on forever) or jumping to an overly abrupt decision.
  5. Generate ideas. – Making a decision requires at least two options. A good rule of thumb is that the more critical and complex the decision, the more formal the idea generation process needs to be.  Affinity Diagraming is one technique for idea generation.
  6. Make a decision. – The final step is the culmination of the process.  You have the criteria and the data . .  . just make the decision!

Team involvement is critical when buy-in is needed.  The degree of involvement is generally driven by the level of critically and complexity. Individuals make simple or mundane decisions on a nearly continuous basis. In general the more critical and complex the decision, the more involvement is required.

Getting to a decision in a repeatable way requires a commitment to the process. In many cases, the stress of making decisions can cause teams to abandon their normal process. This will lead to less repeatable decisions and possibly worse decisions. Once a decision is made, continuing to adjudicate the decisions or actively dissent will reduce team effectiveness. Commitment to both the decision and the decision-making process is important.

A one-sized decision-making process never fits all needs. It must scale based on the context, which includes criticality, complexity the level of buy-in needed and required decision-making speed. Fast decisions are almost never made by groups.  For example, if driving, would you want to have to consult with your team in order to hit the brake if the car in front of stops short.

Effective decisions are generally a reflection of a standard, repeatable, context driven decision-making process. Decision making processes that scale to meet the needs of the decision can be as  rigorous or light as required.  Without a process it is generally too easy to ignore team input, which will reduce the number of options and the team’s commitment to the final decision.