Four Steps to Making Great Decisions
(Without Taking a Vote!)


Decision-making within an organization can be a sticky subject. Emotion and opinion are at play, which can cloud facts and impede forward motion to the end result. It seems more common than not that the “Art of Thinking and Deciding” together is a very rare competency for teams at all levels.

There’s the challenge of myopia, where each party involved only has their own team/department/function’s interests in mind. Individual team members may have IQs of 160, but when they come together, the collective IQ of the team is a 22. This is because their view is not holistic, or they’re too wrapped up in their individual agenda and not the most strategic issues for the entire team.

But there is a better way – a way to take different perspectives into account and to arrive collaboratively at a suitable solution. It’s time to shift our focus from group votes of “yes” or “no” to co-thinking and collaborative decision-making where we can synthesize the talent of our teams to make great choices. Here’s how.

Get clear on the issues.

Most companies are less than stellar when it comes to making decisions. They forget that successful decisions should not require a vote. When committed, creative, engaged individuals come together, the critical thinking that happens will almost make the decision for you. But you have to know how to get there. Clarity is job one.

What to do
You and your team need to understand: What are we solving for? What decision actually needs to be made? Once you know that, ask yourselves, “Are we the right group to be making this decision, and why?” Then you need to assess whether or not you have the facts necessary to make the decision. Nine out of 10 decision scenarios are not fact-based; rather, they are emotional and personal. If you can clarify what kinds of decisions need to be made, whose job it is to make them, and gather the data needed to contemplate and make the decision, then you are in an excellent starting position.

Outstanding decisions start with listening.

Very often, when a situation requiring a decision arises, the people involved are sure they know the answer before the decision process has even begun. Maybe a process doesn’t even exist. We’re all guilty of being overly ready to say what we think and feel, or to impose our ideas on others, instead of being curious. Some of the best thinking about a decision comes from listening rather than talking. And remember, alignment doesn’t mean unanimity, it simply means directional congruence.

What to do
Once you have the clarity defined in step 1, you’re ready to consider the information. Let the decision content owner lay out the situation to everyone involved, convey the facts, and review the options available to the team. Then allow everyone to ask one round of clarifying questions. Allow people only to ask clarifying questions and not simply make declaratory statements with a “don’t you agree?” at the end. Ensure that each participant has the opportunity to ask and the discipline to listen. This will allow concerns and recommendations regarding the decision to emerge. More oft en than not, you’ll find the recommendations coalesce around a consistent path.

Honor outliers, then move ahead together.

Not everyone will be on the same page immediately. You should expect that at least someone in the group will not share the same sentiments as the others. And, sometimes people take a position on a controversy without fully vetting it, just to play devil’s advocate. However, if a decision is made only 60/40, it is likely that something in step 1 or 2 has gone awry. Either way, the key is to honor the opposing opinions while sticking to the process – revising based on the insights of the group.

What to do
If someone has a major problem with where the previous steps have led you, something may be missing. Is there additional information that the person believes is required to make the call? What would they change to make it more acceptable? Keep the process candid and rigorous, creating a no-holds-barred atmosphere to hear out, honor, and move past challenges. The key is to address conflict with integrity in a safe environment that separates issues from individuals. In the end, some may still disagree. If they’ve had their say, had their concerns heard and vetted by the group, and had their point of view considered, but the group still landed on the same decision, it’s time to move forward. Once the decision is made, all involved must speak with one voice. Without consistent belief in the choice and behavior to match, the decision will not truly have been made.

Create accountability.

Creating accountability in the workplace can be challenging even when there is no decision at stake. But, how do you create it when a line has been drawn, when you’ve made a decision as a group and now everyone is expected to execute against that decision? It’s incumbent on the team involved to own the decision they’ve made, and to support one another as the work is being done. You may meet resistance, and there may be a desire to loop back, rethink, and make changes. The key is for everyone to commit to each other that they’re going to do their part to make the decision a reality.

What to do
Declare the decision in very public terms. Communicate it to the organization, hang it on the wall if you like, but own it openly. If concerns arise, the group must come back together to address them. To protect the organization from potentially damaging rumors and innuendo, no discussion should happen outside the group. Then create a “behavioral contract” with one another. Commit to delivering as a team – who’s doing what, how, when, and with whom.

When it comes to decision making, we don’t want a consensus. We shouldn’t need to vote. What we want is the wisdom of the group to lead us to the right path. While the decision-making process does culminate in a decision, it’s the art of co-thinking and synthesizing together that yields the most powerful results.

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