Making the “right” type of decision
One of the dilemmas leaders have to come to terms with is choosing the right decision-making strategy. Getting it wrong can be expensive in many ways. For example, precious time is wasted trying to consult when a quick decision is needed. Conversely, hasty, unilateral decision-making when large scale buy-in and understanding is needed can be a recipe for disengagement and apathy.
So what are the five decision-making strategies you should know? When we work with clients (particularly in our role as facilitators), we use Peter Senge’s “Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create” Model. This sets out the five legitimate choices leaders have for decision-making strategies and these are set out below:
In this mode, there is no debate. A quick decision is needed with minimal input necessary or expected. The leader legitimately makes the decision and informs the team what it is.
“This is the plan. We just need to get on and deliver it.”
Here, the leader has still unilaterally makes the decision. However, it is important that those who will implement it understand the context, reasons and consequences of success or failure in order to build a level of conviction.
“This is the plan, if we deliver it well, we can expect the following benefits for the organisation …”
When ‘testing’ a decision, the leader presents two or more options and encourages the team to indicate their preferences. The leader takes these preferences into account when making the final decision. This allows the team members to feel more ‘involved’.
“These are the options for our plan. Which option is most desirable for you and why?”
When using ‘consulting’ as a decision-making strategy, the leader still makes the final decision but with much greater input from the “team”. This involvement can be in the initial analysis of the issues at hand and also in formulating the options for addressing them.
“I need your input into identifying the main issues we are facing and to develop a range of options to deal with them in our plan.”
When using ‘co-creation’ (potentially the most time-consuming mode of decision-making) the leader stands back and joins the team as they create a consensual plan. The leader may act as a facilitator but does not make the final decision on which choice of action to take allowing the team to do this.
“I’m going to hand over decision-making to you and work with you to come up with the best plan possible.”
Using Senge’s framework
So how do we use Senge’s framework in practice? When we facilitate meetings for clients, one of the first things we do is explain these five options for decision-making. We then ask which mode they want to use for each of the agenda items in the meeting. It is likely that different agenda items will require different forms of decision-making in the same meeting.
Often this reveals that too many items require only ‘telling’ or ‘selling’. When this happens we question whether there is too much ‘download’ and not enough ‘discussion’ in the meeting. Typically the meetings we facilitate are a unique chance to share ideas and build consensus. Sitting through endless ‘telling’ or ‘selling’ presentations feels disengaging and a waste of time. Bringing in more agenda topics that require testing, consulting or co-creation is a better use of people’s time and builds buy-in.
Another important consideration is to be open and honest with your audience about the decision-making approach you are using. There is nothing worse than a group being told they are being “consulted” when actually you’ve got them there to “tell” them your decision. Similarly, confusion can be rife if an audience expects to be told a decision only for it to be an extended consultation session. By simply explaining the Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model to your team and making it clear which decision-making mode you are operating in and why, you can all be clear as to each others’ roles.
If you would like to find our more about how we can help you to make your meetings more productive, click here or contact us directly at email@example.com.