There are six ways teams can make decisions. Some people believe that in a collaborative environment, consensus is the best. But that’s a big mistake.
Pushing for consensus when it’s not needed actually makes collaboration more difficult. The best collaborative environments are situational in their approach to team decision-making.
You make countless decisions every day. Knowing when and how you need to involve others, and the best team decision-making method for each situation, will help you make the right decisions, will make implementation easier and will save time in the long run.
The Six Types of Team Decisions
Individual. The individual who is responsible for the outcome makes the decision. If your office is running low on pens, the office manager can decide what kind to buy and place the order. It would be a waste of time to consult with others. But this method doesn’t work if you make a decision that impacts others without discussing it with them first. Often the repairs needed cost more time than it would have to simply involve them at the front end.
Minority. A subgroup of the team makes the decision, either as a group or in individual consultation with the team leader. This method makes sense when different people have the information needed to make an intelligent decision. This method does not work when a subgroup forms and “railroads” a decision that others on the team do not support.
Majority. Majority rule is usually obtained by voting or polling. Majority rule is often assumed to be appropriate for all team situations because it reflects democratic political systems. However, it does not ensure the decision will be supported and smoothly implemented. This method works best with larger groups. In smaller groups, if you do resort to voting, it is often best to set the majority at 75% or greater, rather than using a simple majority.
Consensus. One of the most effective but also time-consuming methods of team decision-making is to seek consensus. Consensus is where every member of the team can say, “I believe everyone understands my initial point of view. I clearly understand the viewpoint of the decision we have made and am prepared to support it, even if it doesn’t reflect my original view.” Consensus takes longer to achieve, but implementation is faster because the decision is understood and supported by all. A caveat: don’t assume that silence means agreement. Make sure you have true consensus and not just lip-service.
Unanimous Consent. This is where everyone truly agrees on the course of action. It’s easiest for simple decisions like, “should we break for lunch right now?” or urgent decisions like “I see smoke. Let’s get out of the building.” For complex, important decisions, this is the least attainable kind of decision. Consensus is usually enough, as long as it is real consensus.
“Plop.” This is always an ineffective method of decision-making which is why it is not part of the diagram. It is decision by lack of decision. Someone suggests an idea, no one responds and the conversation moves on. The idea just plopped. Actually a decision was made – the answer was “no” – but it was not acknowledged as a decision. The person who made the suggestion often also feels unacknowledged, which may affect their willingness to offer more ideas in the future.
Before you make a team decision, first determine how that decision will be made – which decision-making method will be used. To select the best method, answer these questions:
1. Do you already have all the information you need and do you already know everything you need to know?
2. How great is the impact of the decision on accomplishing the team’s mission and how much does it impact the team members?
If you have all the information you need, the decision is not mission critical and does not impact others, go ahead and make the decision yourself. Don’t waste people’s time.
However, if successful implementation is important and is dependent on others, it is to your advantage to involve them in the decision early on. Otherwise, you are in danger of making what might look like a smart decision, but fails during implementation because of lack of understanding and support from those who need to implement it.
The more others are affected by the decision, the more they should be involved in making it. As the impact increases, the type of decision-making method needed increases in the level of involvement. A high impact decision requires consensus, even when you think you already know what the right decision is.
A good consensus process, where team members set their egos and personal needs aside and focus on the mission, will result in a higher quality decision. And as a result of the process, team members will develop a deeper understanding of the issues and great commitment to the decision, ensuring smoother and faster implementation. Unanimous consent, although a delightful surprise when it occurs, is not included in this model because the power of working through a real consensus process will generate the understanding and support needed.
What About Urgency?
What if you don’t have time for involvement? Shouldn’t that be a variable? Indeed, if the building is on fire and smoke is coming under the door, it doesn’t make sense to call a group together to discuss options. However, most situations are not as urgent as they seem.
We have all had the experience of being in a hurry and making a decision we later regret. The same thing can happen with teams. It’s important to be aware of the potential for bad decisions when under an intense deadline, and consider the short-term benefit of a quick decision vs. the long-term consequences of poor implementation and needing to redo work.
What Your Team Needs to Know
When you ask for input, be clear about what decision-making method is being used and what their actual influence in the decision is. Are they being asked to consult or do they have a real vote?
When people know ahead of time what their role is in the decision-making process, they are less likely to resent a decision that doesn’t go the way they wanted.
What role does the decision maker intuition play in the process? In what situations should be advisable to make a decision based on that?
In this model, “information” includes all data – both external objective data and internal sense making such as intuition and values. As for how much weight is placed on external information vs. internal information (gut), for individuals it is a matter of psychological preferences according to Carl Jung. In group decision-making, a good consensus building process will include discussion of organizational and individual values. How much weight is place on intuition usually depends on the organization’s culture. Did this address your question, Sergio?
It is nice to be on teams that have a unified set of goals and directions, but the reality is that often teams are not so nicely defined. In professional sports teams have coaches and even leader on the field that drive how the game unfolds, even though team members are asked to do their part small or large.
Basically I have learned from past experience that every team needs a leader, who when they have to will make a decision, it is just the truth that there will often be times they do not all agree and building a consensus or voting are not real options. I have seen cases were if they followed the majorities decision more problems would have occurred than did by following a leaders decision. That is why in my past whenever setting up a team, roles and positions need to be clearly defined from the outset. And one of the most important roles is that of who will lead the team, and when they need to act and how they should take action. Yes it is nice to have consensus, but it is not always the best thing or even possible, at those times someone needs to make decisions, and if you establish clear roles including whose is in charge, feathers get far less ruffled.
In fact the only truly bad team experiences I have had, all lacked a clearly defined leader of the team. A leader will not only make tough decisions, but they also ensure everyone pulls their weight. It is better to have achieved something, and ruffled some peoples feathers, than achieving nothing but everyone got along. As a team you will be judged by the outcome, and rarely by how you did it, and if teams are left with out leaders you get a Bradley fighting vehicles (it had something for everyone, but was almost entirely useless for everyone). Same problem they are having with the current universal fighter aircraft they are designing, committee consensus decisions are not always the best.
Thanks for weighing in, Robert. The role of leadership is an important one. When we look at stages of team development, new teams are dependent on having a clear leader, roles and processes. And we also know that as teams develop into high performance teams, they still need leadership, but that exactly who is providing the leadership shifts according to who has the knowledge, skills and influence needed at that time, including military type organizations and also in sports. On high performance teams, the designated leader knows when to back off and let others take the lead. I love the story that Red Auerbach once asked K.C. Jones how he coached Larry Bird. Jones replied, “I toss out the ball and yell, ‘shoot. shoot. shoot.'”
ps. I totally agree with you that a poor consensus process is one of the most painful experiences one can go through.
I agree – consensus decision making can be deadly. It usually takes extra time, creates drift, etc. I think decision making needs to a conscious capability of any organization. And every type of organization needs an approach that suits it’s purpose, e.g., a police force (lots of rules) is different from a software development business (lots of agility). The one thing I urge clients to differentiate around decision making is between the technical / process / engineering / systems side and the human side. For example, the actuaries in an insurance business have loads of data and tools to make decisions about which policies to issue. They need other forms of decision making when they are developing their staff or interacting with customers. Make sense?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Such a key distinction, Jesse Lyn Stoner !! I think this is one of the things that really holds back the potential of collaboration–those leaders that may benefit the most but fear they’ll get mired in consensus.
There is a paradox here for the leader, in that they can gain more ‘soft power’, by giving away some of the control in collaborative environments. With more and more businesses now needed to embrace the business ecosystems approach in order to create new value, or to even survive, adopting and embracing this skill is quickly becoming a necessity rather than an option.
I like your decision matrix, I think this would help a lot for those who are afraid of getting lost in the decision process of a collaborative endeavour.
Indeed. I think this is the central issue – many leaders think collaboration is a good idea in theory, but are afraid it will slow things down. Hopefully the decision matrix can help those who want to be more collaborative to avoid the mire. I agree it is a paradox – by giving away power, we increase it. Thanks for sharing your insights, Gregory.
Good article and comments but I think it’s more of a simplifying model than accurate depiction of how decisions are made. Have a look at a study I did a few years ago and let me know if this changes your thinking. “Decision Categories” by Neil Raden and James Taylor @jamet123 http://www.slideshare.net/NeilRaden/decision-categorization-6479649 … #Types and Dimensions of decisions
Indeed, this model is intended to provide guidelines to help determine who should be involved in making decisions. It is not intended to depict how decisions are made. I viewed your decision-making model with interest and appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts, Neil.
Love your decision-making model. Simple and elegant, and makes sense. I have started using it. Very helpful. Thank you!
Thanks, Terry. Glad you found it helpful.
Thanks for the great article. Could you point to some resources on helping teams follow through on decisions once they’ve been made? Thanks!
Berrett-Koehler Publishers appoints a “decision steward” which I describe in The 5 Steps of CRISP Decision-Making. Also identify roles (a RACI Chart or something like that can be helpful). Also, I find that teams that go to the process to identify shared values are better in following through on commitments.
thanks for sharing the decisions-making model. Are you familiar with the Systemic Consensus Principle? (see also http://systemicconsensus.blogspot.de/).
This approach is used to find solutions and make decisions even in larger groups. In opposition to Consensus you figure out which solution might produce the smallest resistance within the group.
Measuring the level of resistance the group optimizes the solutions at hand or brings up new ones to reduce the resistance within the group.
We successfully used this approach to decide whether and how to make our salaries transparent. We discussed this for several month and were close to give up before we came up with the Systemic Consensus Principle.
Thanks Stephan. I’m not aware of it, but will check it out.
Doesn’t shared leadership slows decision making given the fact that there are more individuals involved? It also slows implementation because it takes more time to communicate and achieve consensus, and to plan and assess when there are more participants. What is your opinion on this?
It does slow things down. But there are times that if you don’t go slow, you are in danger of making costly mistakes that will take more time to deal with in the long run. This article is meant to help you determine when those times are.
I am on a collaborative team with a principal and 4 teachers. The principal is strongly against the opinion of the teachers. The contract says we are to collaborate on certain decisions, but that is all. Can we call for a vote if we are at loggerheads? I never read about what to do when one member won’t compromise. Last year we ended with no agreement and nothing got done, which hurt the principal more than us.
I guess what I am asking is what to do when one person won’t compromise. Is it right to force a vote that we know will go a certain way? Suggestions? thanks.
I am assuming this is a private school without a teacher’s union. This is a difficult situation because the principal is the team leader, not just one of the team members refusing to compromise. Calling for a vote might “win the battle” but there is a much bigger issue – trust and the overall climate at your school. Is the principal responsible to anyone? A board of directors, perhaps? It might be worth asking someone else to get involved and help you all resolve the bigger issues around relationships, respect and trust.
in my submission:
On the Minority method plays a key role in team management
1》 In group work: my number of personnel is not many, and the level of knowledge reserve of students in the group is different, so it is difficult to discuss by Consensus
But the best solution is to focus on some of the leadership to discuss the solutions to problems and assignments before assigning tasks so that the tasks will be clear
It’s easier to accept people.
2》 In medium-sized companies: for department meetings, the department development plan can be determined according to the discussion of some department managers, and then the next staff can be informed to deal with relevant problems.
3》 In large enterprises: there are many employees, so it is a good choice to adopt centralized management to determine the implementation plan, which can save the cost and efficiency of the company.
I agree with you that when people don’t have access to the relevant information, it is not possible to make good decisions using consensus. However, even though you are not using a consensus model, sometimes it can be helpful for everyone to share their perspectives and information on the subject at the same time as that can elevate the level of information and knowledge of the group and help them better understand and accept the decision. What you describe in medium-size and large enterprises is the typical way we see organizations function, although there are some exceptions of companies that do well with other models. Many thanks for your thoughts and for adding to the conversation, Wangqi!