Permalink to Decide how to decide

Decide how to decide

If you care about a particular decision, it matters how the decision is made as well as who makes it.  – Ellen Gottesdiener

Decide how to Decide

One of the most powerful decisions that teams can make is how they will make their decisions. They decide how they will decide. And it’s an often over-looked step.

To experience how important this is, think about an election for a public official. Would you want to participate in an election which you know is not fair? Or to put it another way, would you want to vote in an election where you were not free to make your choice?

In that example, we understand how important it is to know how the decisions will be made. In addition, we know who is making the decision. In the example above, it`s the voters by a simple majority.

In teams, there are many ways that decisions can be made. One of the barriers to good decision making in teams can be confusion about how they will decide as well as who will decide.

By “who decides” the choice could be:

  • A senior leader not on the team will decide: The team will make a recommendation that will be considered by the senior leader.
  • The team leader decides: The team will discuss the options but the leader will make the final decision.
  • The team decides by a majority vote: The team will take a simple vote and abide by the result.
  • An expert will decide: One of the team members who is an expert will decide.

By “how will they decide”, the choice could be:

  • Majority rules: They will take a vote and the majority result will prevail.
  • Consensus: The team will discuss this until they can reach a group consensus – all the group members will agree with the result.
  • Modified consensus: The group will discuss until all members either agree or can live with the result.
  • Delegation: The group delegates a decision to a particular person either in the team or outside of it and agrees to live with the decision.
  • Arbitrary: The team can live with either of two choices and so it decides based on some arbitrary rule.

So how should a team make the choice about the above options? Depends on the following factors:

  • Time: If you involve more people, i.e. the whole team, then you need more time for consideration and discussion. If it is only one person, then it takes less time.
  • The relative importance of the decision: The smaller the impact of the decision, the more it makes sense for the team to delegate the decision-making to an individual.
  • Senior buy-in. Does the team need senior management to be involved? Are there others outside the team who at least need to be consulted?

The bottom line about team decision-making is this:

The more clarity the team has early on about how it will make its decisions, the more easily it will make them. Deciding how to decide is fundamental to good team decision-making.

How do your teams decide how to decide? Do you follow any of the suggestions in this blog or have you another method that is working well? Please add your experience in the comments section.


Permalink to My team has a mission but they are behind and in conflict about how to execute. What do I do? Look for the gold…

My team has a mission but they are behind and in conflict about how to execute. What do I do? Look for the gold…


Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction – John F. Kennedy

A project team in a global manufacturing company that I worked with that was in passionate disagreement. This was a multi-disciplinary and multi-national team. They had been asked by the CEO to create a code of conduct to be used around the world.  They couldn’t agree how to approach this key project were already behind on it due to their wrangling. The team leader, Joyce, was at her wits end trying to get them to work together.

First thing to do…

When a team is in conflict, one of the first things they need to do is to re-confirm their purpose.  They need to know, and more importantly, agree on, what they are all here to accomplish.  If you ask your team members if the purpose of the team is clear to them, they may all nod their heads vigorously. But if you then ask each of them to state the purpose, you may well find that there is sufficient disagreement either about the fundamentals or in the nuances that it is holding the team back. And so, –as Kennedy said, they may be expending effort and courage and even skill and passion but that is not enough.

In conflict there is gold…

If this conflict about purpose exists in your team, don’t worry. In this conflict, there is gold. Conflict is often avoided by people because they are worried about how to deal with disagreement. But properly viewed, disagreement happens because people are being honest about how they think and feel about an issue. Left to fester, “conflict avoiders” are right to worry. But if conflict is viewed as a positive starting point then a team can mine it for the gold that is there.

What was the purpose? One version was…

We decided to convene Joyce’s team to discuss the purpose of the project.  After a lot of discussion a few insights emerged about the team’s role in the key project. Some of the team members argued that they should be creating the toughest set of standards possible to show that their organization was the most ethical in the world, or certainly in their industry. They argued that if they didn’t take the highest ground possible, their code of conduct would be useless.

Another version was…

Others argued that while having a tough set of standards might be something to ultimately aim for, the legal jurisdictions they were manufacturing in and selling to, didn’t support this ethical view. They argued that their customers and suppliers in these jurisdictions would see this kind of code as unrealistic and North American-centric. They argued that a code of conduct that was rejected by a majority of people (as they were truly a global company) was an exercise in futility.

The importance of finding a middle or common ground…

I suggested that they imagine that they had been asked to find a middle ground between these two points of view, taking into account that the code of conduct would likely evolve over time.

The solution could evolve…

Joyce also asked them to imagine that this code of conduct only had to be an initial one that would last two years and that they would learn much from its implementation and then it could be amended based on the experience in the countries where their organization operated.

The solution didn’t have to be perfect…

Recognizing that this code of conduct didn’t have to be a perfect one to last forever, the team members were freed up to be more flexible.

The result – a critical watershed…

What the team agreed to do next was to make a single recommendation about the purpose of the code of conduct with the different points of view outlined. As well, they included a recommendation of a two year trial with a phased-in rollout so that all countries could learn from the implementation experience.

What was significant was that this recommendation had no details about the actual code. But they got to an agreement on what the purpose should be. Joyce took this to the CEO and the executive team and their purpose and implementation plans were approved.

Agreeing on the purpose of the work was a critical watershed moment for this team and they were able to be effective in creating the code.

What type of conflict resolution has worked for your teams? Is there a conflict with-in your team you need help resolving? Join-in on the conversation by leaving your comments on our blog.


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