“It’s really, really important to surround yourself with a team whose opinions you trust, who are not in any way frightened to disagree with you.”- Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in-Chief.
Many companies either ignore or lack adequate decision-making processes, says the International Journal of Information Technology & Decision Making. As businesses are increasingly organising themselves into networks of teams, this drawback is also prevalent in corporate teams.
Since physical boundaries do not constrain the modern world of work, strategic initiatives are run by teams of members drawn from around the company. Teams include colleagues from different functions, different business units – even different countries. As individual members’ interests don’t align perfectly by default, at least some misalignment is to be expected.
However, without a clear plan to untie this knot, the evil trio of conflict, poor participation and postponement rear their heads.
The loudest voice starts to carry the most substantial decision-making power. At this point, a senior executive usually steps in, autocratically imposing a solution. Bob Frisch, writing for Harvard Business Review, calls this the ‘dictator-by-default syndrome’.
The highhanded dynamic of the dictator-by-default syndrome switches off team members’ vigour to participate, creating a significant risk of apathy and poor execution. The remedy is implementing a proven decision-making process.
The basic building blocks of an inclusive decision-making process
Referencing a clear decision-making framework will circumvent the dictator-by-default syndrome within a few steps. Firstly, the dialogue should begin with a consensus on what outcome the team is trying to achieve.
In the absence of clearly articulated goals, members will make assumptions based on unspoken – often widely differing – premises, creating a condition that is ripe for failure.
Secondly, roles need to be very clearly defined. RAPID is a practical framework to ensure everybody understands what leadership – and their teammates – expects of them. Briefly unpacking the acronym (the group starts with the Problem Statement), each letter represents the following:
R = Who is Recommending alternatives?
A = Who must Agree with the decision?
P = Who is going to Perform the action required?
I = Who will give Input of critical facts and data?
D = Who will make the final Decision?
Team members can fulfil multiple roles – especially in small teams – but if any tasks are left unfilled, decision quality will suffer.
Thirdly, participants need to come to the conversation well-prepared. Teams cannot make decisions with incomplete information. Participants should be presented with appropriate data and verified facts to facilitate an informed decision-making process.
Also, management should nip rumours and hearsay in the bud and set the record straight on any misconceptions.
Good teams master the art of a robust decision-making process. Great teams exceed the expectations and internalise the routine. High-Performing – or Elite – teams transcend the practise and mould it to form.
Elite Teams build customised decision-making frameworks
Elite Teams select elements from proven decision-making frameworks and melt them down into a new structure. High-performing teams seldom conform to a fixed decision-making recipe. Each team’s set of guidelines is unique and tailored.
Additionally, the decision-making scaffolding is bendable and allows for reassembly if the scenario dictates a quick change of direction.
Elite Teams are responsive, concerted and empowered to make decisions.
In a high-performing team, the project manager is not the only accountable decision-maker. Rather, he or she takes on the role of a facilitator or coordinator for the unit. Thus, leadership enables decision making between all team members and does not make final judgements unilaterally.
Leadership’s responsibility is to create an orchestrated concert by which all participants are engaged, including leadership itself. Team members are willing to take on tough decisions and see them through. With the organisation’s best interest at heart, individuals are open to change and are prepared to do what is best for the collective.
The structure of the team is flexible, with team members taking on interchanging roles to gain new experiences. Consequently, team members feel comfortable to voice their opinions and share their inputs without fear of dismissal.
As the Elite Team self-organise, all team members contribute, with decisions made collaboratively. These decisions not only include identifying problems (and proposing solutions), but also generating innovative ideas.
Research found that Elite Team members are often involved in decisions outside of their traditional skill areas owing to their self-organising, flexible team structure. If the situation calls for it, High-Performing teams may also make swift decisions to maintain task momentum, even though these judgements may sometimes be reversed later, once further information becomes available.