Decision Making Process: Structured or Not…

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Climbers-resized-for-blog-photo.jpgArticle by Jim Jensen

In my last post, “Is your team’s decision-making process a conscious one?” I mentioned that formal or structured decision-making processes resonate with some leaders and teams, and not with others. We teach a formal, structured decision-making process in our team development sessions, but in our experience it takes a few successful attempts at using it, on decisions that matter, before people truly see the value and begin to buy in. So rather than teach the process we use (which you would not likely buy into by just reading it) I’m choosing instead to share the components we feel should be part of any decision-making process.


  • First, make it clear that you are going into decision making mode so that everyone is leaning in and paying attention. “Let’s make a decision on this.”
  • Secondly, make sure the team understands whose decision it is. Yours or ours. We use a Levels of Decision Making model that has five levels. The shared language that comes out of a shared understanding of this model is designed to create clarity. Are you, as the leader, making the decision, and are simply asking for your team’s input (that’s a Level 2 decision) or are you wanting to get consensus, with you participating along with the others (Level 3)? Your team knowing which level from the outset clarifies their role. With a Level 2 decision their job is to effectively communicate their views to you, the leader. A Level 3 decision (consensus) requires different skills. If you’re going for consensus we always recommend you are clear that it will become a Level 2 if you cannot achieve it. Problems arise when leaders are not clear with their group, or group members are not clear with their leader about which level they are assuming. There are three other levels but I’ll save that for another time.
  • Unless there is a clear proposal to begin with, open it up for discussion. Do people have strong feelings one way or another? Any pros and cons that should be discussed? It could be as simple as, “Here’s what I’m thinking. Does anyone have other thoughts?” Or, “Can anyone convince me that this is not the best way to go?” Or, “Who has thoughts on which way we should go with this?” In a healthy team culture this is the time for passionate, spirited debate around the issue. Remind them of that if necessary. 
  • As the leader, never underestimate the influence you have on the trust in the team and the openness of your discussions. Is it really okay to challenge? To dissent? How do you know that for sure? If it seems like there is agreement, make sure people know that dissenting opinions are valued and welcomed. Saying something like, “If this is not a good idea I need to hear from you” opens the door to differing views. 
  • If you are trying to get consensus don’t just assume you have it just because the discussion comes to an end. Check for it. “Is everyone on board?” “Is there anyone who still thinks this is not a good idea?” Imagine the incredible value of walking out of the room “knowing” that if someone was not in full support, you would know that and you would understand why.
  • If it’s a “Level 2” decision (Yours with input), once your make it, make sure everyone is clear what your decision is. Closing that communication loop is an important step.
  • Make sure you consider who, or what groups this decision might impact. Should we be checking with them? Who needs to be informed of this decision? Every decision you make as a leadership team has an impact on others in your organization. Make sure you are considering that. 
  • If, as the leader, you feel good about how a decision was made, let your team know. “Nice job folks. That felt like a good process.” “That felt like healthy conflict to me.” “I appreciate the responsible risks people took in that discussion.” “I was particularly glad to hear from the outliers.” “I feel like I understand the complexities much better.”

And lastly, as we often remind leaders and teams, the best decision-making process in the world will not replace healthy relationships or a healthy team culture. In the absence of a trusting, healthy culture you can use the best process perfectly and get bad results. With a healthy team culture, you can make all kinds of mistakes, muddle through your process, and you will still come out with better decisions. But if you combine a solid process, structured or not, with a healthy culture, you now have a competitive advantage.

I hope you found this helpful.


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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018

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