Monthly Archives: December 2012

Decision Making

How a team makes decisions determines how effective that team is.

All teams have a decision making process whether explicit or implicit and all members of the team have a hand in it. Even in a purely a command and control structure, such as a fast food restaurant where process is centrally decided, every member of the team at the restaurant is reinterpreting the decision and evolving it into what actually happens.

Modern organizations do knowledge work where decisions are the primary output: whether to have a sale or run an ad campaign; which feature to build next. Therefore teams need to be highly concerned with the effectiveness of those decisions. This may take a large amount of time and certainly takes effort and focus. Since every member of the team will evolve what they are working on toward what that member wants, a big portion of the decision making process may be mostly invisible.  This hidden misalignment is a big part of why outputs differ from what was decided in the ‘the meeting’ on what those outputs will be.

That’s not to say that everyone at a company needs to be involved in every decision. However, visibility about what decisions are going to be made and when, can allow people to self select to be involved in the decisions that most affect their work. Make it clear that anyone can attend any meeting and that it is everyone’s responsibility to exclude themselves from meetings as well.

Meetings are frequently inefficiently run.  Which is a big problem.  So solve it.  Make meetings short and focused.  If you have set up the meeting, you may need to exclude yourself from arguing a side of the decision to be made in order to keep the meeting on task.  If that is the case, you can appoint a surrogate to help convey your point of view, or appoint a surrogate to run the meeting.  Is there more to discuss?  Have another short meeting tomorrow where whoever still needs to be heard should attend and everyone will have had time to consider and refine their ideas.  Communication needs to happen and it is best if it is explicit and visible to anyone who wants to know.

Another symptoms of bad meetings is when communication primarily happens in informal groups.  Part of this is natural, a huge amount of communication and productive thinking happens over beers or while chatting about something else.  That is good and worth encouraging.  What is bad is if the only forum for people to voice their concerns or for strategies to be realigned is when enough people happen to get together for lunch or drinks.

Want your team to make better decisions? Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team members.

What decisions do you need to be involved in that you are not now? Which do you not need to be involved in?

Who should be making the tradeoff between X and Y (often the customer if possible), how do we convey the reasoning behind that tradeoff to everyone who is working on it?

Help me out, what other good questions should a team be asking in order to make effective decisions?