What to Consider When Making Decisions

Have you ever been in the middle of making a decision with a group and felt that something was just a bit off? Maybe the group is converging on a dangerous solution. How do you bring them back? How do you avoid wasting more time? Or maybe some people are unhappy that they weren’t consulted.

We, the Learn team (also known as Professional Learning and Development) do a lot of work with Leads and one of the most common topics that comes up is decision making. Ambiguous decision-making can really slow a group down and when unsuitable processes are used, sub-optimal outcomes may be achieved. We hope this post assists you in improving decision making.

Ways of Making Decisions

None of these methods is “right” or “wrong” – they are each suited to different contexts. Being intentional and transparent about how a decision is being made can increase the quality of the decision reached and the subsequent buy-in from those involved/impacted.

The following draws on Jesse Lyn StonerRemote:AF, and Seeds for Change’s work, as well as how we do things at Automattic.

EXPERT/AUTOCRATIC

One person decides on their own.When to use:
Speed is crucial (ie. a crisis)
– Deep expertise is required
Note:
This is great when the group is minimally impacted/has little-no time available for the decision

CONSULTATIVE

One person decides, having elicited feedback from various people.When to use:
A decision has multiple, interconnected components
Note:
Some problems are so complicated and layered that it’s smoother for one person to take responsibility for understanding and combining the different parts

DEMOCRATIC w. VETO

A group decides based on majority sentiment, but someone (often a lead), can override the decision if need be.When to use:
There is some context that cannot be shared with the whole group
Note:
If the possibility of a veto is not made transparent upfront and ends up being needed, engagement and morale can be heavily impacted

DEMOCRATIC

A group decides based on majority sentiment.When to use:
No obvious right or wrong exists
– The group is heavily impacted
Note:
Democratic methods capture the majority feeling. However, they don’t inevitably lead to agreement and can overlook important minority perspectives

CONSENSUS

A group decides via dialogue and reaching an agreement/commitment. When to use:
Distributing power is important
Group buy-in and alignment is needed
Note:
Consensus methods take a lot of time, and getting to an agreement/commitment requires dialogue

3 things to consider

1) Access to Information

Does the group have sufficient expertise and access to the relevant information needed to make the decision?

  • No – individual, consultative and democratic with veto may be needed or some level of up-skilling and teaching before a decision can be reached.

2) Group Time Availability

How much time does the group have available to invest in the decision?

  • None: Someone may need to be nominated on their behalf (individual/consultative decision making).
  • A little: Democratic decision making can be done with relatively little effort.
  • Lots: Consensus driven decision making requires a lot of group input and time. Dialogue does not come cheap.

3) Impact on Team/Team Members

How impacted will individuals or the team be by the decision made?

  • Low impact: It might not be worth using the group’s time in making the decision (ie. individual/consultative decision making).
  • High impact: If lots of people are to be impacted by a decision, it’s really important that we fully understand the landscape, considerations and possible outcomes. Consensus, democratic and consultative decision making can help us achieve this.

Making the Invisible Seen

Does this seem a bit meta or abstract? Probably, yes. How decisions are made in a team is often tacit knowledge (understood or implied without being stated). Tacit knowledge is difficult to question or improve upon because it’s unspoken. Making invisible processes visible, allows us to evaluate the efficacy of our approaches and avoid misunderstandings.

So next time you’re about to make a decision, whether it’s deciding actions in a retrospective or choosing a technical direction for a new project, I encourage you to pause for a moment to decide how you’ll decide 🙂

You may not be in decision-making mode right now, so bookmark this post for the future when you’re about to make a decision and see if it helps with your process.

Read next: How to create a team decision protocol