Sat, 03/31/2012 - 15:26
Ever contribute your thinking only to realize that the decision had already been made?
I recently observed a group leader struggle during a brainstorming session. Early in the process, participants slowly became disengaged. Blackberries came out; some nodded off; sidebar conversations began.
As facilitator, I called “time out” and checked in with the group. The participants said that they felt the leader was making the decisions. While he had asked for input, they believed that he already had concluded what was going to be done.
I was certain that they were mistaken. What was going on? We explored further, and began to understand.
First, the leader was not clear at the start of the session about the decision-making approach he wanted to use. Then, as participants began to believe that their input was not being considered, they did not check in and ask for clarification.Instead, they checked out.
Until we discussed the problem, no correction was made to get the group back on course.
Keeping team members on board and owning decisions is important to effective decision-making and critical to execution. Most effective leaders work hard to create an inclusive culture and shared decision-making. Despite that intent, participant disconnection is not unique.
That’s because without ownership, full participation suffers. Mixed signals result when the leader and team are unclear about roles and desired outcomes.
Here are some things to consider prior to determining the best decision-making style for the situation:
- Time constraints: Decision-making will take longer with increased participation. Achieving buy in and accountability can result in full participation. If time does not allow for adequate input, shared understanding will be hard to obtain. Decisions that need to be made quickly or of a more urgent nature may not allow for full participation.
- Trust level: Higher levels of participation can build higher levels of trust. If a leader is already trusted, an authoritarian style can be equally effective if needed.
- Complexity: When the content of a decision is complex, consider whether and which potential participants have sufficient content expertise to make or influence an informed decision.
- Relative stake in the outcome: People who have a high stake in the outcome are more likely to support and follow through on a decision in which they participated.
- Cost / benefit: In each case, think about the relative degrees of effectiveness, efficiency and commitment when determining a decision making model.
In their “Leading Organizations to Health” course, organizational development coach / consultants Dr. Anthony Suchman and Diane Rawlins offer practical concepts to help leaders develop flexibility and dexterity in using and choosing appropriate models of decision-making.
Here are a few of their suggestions for improving participation and ownership utilizing different styles of decision-making:
- Consultative: “I have made a decision and I want to test it out on you.” This is a test approach. The leader is sending a message that s/he is still open if something significant emerges during the test that needs serious consideration.
- Last-minute request: “I am going to make the call on this decision and I could be influenced depending on your input.” This is a request for last-minute feedback. Going into the decision-making discussion, the leader has not yet made the decision, but states clearly that the decision is in his/her hands. Input from the team can still influence the decision the leader makes.
- Democratic: Decision will be put to a vote. The most important component in this style is determining if the vote wins by majority, supermajority and if anyone has veto power.
- Consensus. This process requires full agreement from the entire team. Clarifying questions are critical: What would it take to buy into this? On a scale from one-10, where are you on this? Can everyone live with this? Can everyone go out and support this in the organization?
Teams appreciate leaders who communicate directly and specifically prior to discussions. If you clearly express the context of the situation at hand, and are specific about your expectations of them in decision-making, all those Blackberries will remain out of sight.
* * *
Jennifer Kaukeinen, RN, BS, MS-HSA is a Senior Coach / Consultant at McArdle Ramerman. She has 25 years of experience in the clinical, operations, finance, human resources, and leadership spheres of healthcare. She holds a Master of Science, Health Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Nazareth College of Rochester. She has done post-graduate work in leadership coaching with the University of Rochester Warner Center / McArdle Ramerman Leadership Learning Collaborative. For more about her, click here.