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One of the hard truths about traditional organizations is that decision making tends to be a mystery. There is rarely clarity or transparency around who makes which decisions or how they are made. Even in organizations where there is an internal “consultation practice” or regular brainstorming sessions to elicit opinions, the way decisions are made often remains obscure.

In many organizations, the ultimate goal for decentralizing decision-making protocols is to delegate decisions. Most of us who have worked in traditional organizations as a manager will be familiar with the delegated authority form – you remember – the one that says how much money you are allowed to sign off for according to your band! Sometimes your job description will allude to decisions that you may be able to make, for example, the final decision on hiring a new staff member. Often as a manager, the decisions around how a particular KPI should be met or a sales target attained may be within the remit of you as a manager. For those that are doing the work however it’s very rare that the decision-making process is clear or anything other than autocratic, i.e. made by your manager. There is very little in the current paradigm that helps teams experiment in the space over the decision making, even if there is recognition of the potential value in decisions being made by those closest to or with the most context regarding the person or entity the decision affects or impacts.

Mapping out decisions

When we lead together one of the most impactful first steps your team can take is to actually map how you currently make decisions and what decisions are made, and by who – starting to get a handle on where and how decisions are being made can be a very valuable exercise.  You might be surprised by how many, or how few, decisions are being made.

In her book Going Horizontal, Samantha Slade offers a quadrant model by which decisions that have a longer duration (or are harder to undo) and decisions that are riskier are decisions from which a wider range of opinion and a more formal process is preferable. On the other side of the spectrum, decisions that aren’t risky and don’t last a long time can sit with one or two people very easily and can be taken very quickly.

Consent based decision making

Another misnomer about decision making in organizations that lead together is it everybody must absolutely agree on everything. The notion of sitting around in a circle until late hours of the night to wordsmith every single word in an agreement and to ensure everyone is 100% happy about it is not very efficient. There are many examples of this type of decision making practice leading to outcomes that arrive through exhaustion, convincing and that lead to paralysis. This is where a mindset of consent can be incredibly helpful. Not only does a consent-based decision-making protocol give anyone in the organization the opportunity to raise a proposal, but starts to build our mindset around accountability and ownership.

In my company, Greaterthan, most Decisions are conjoined with roles or working groups. However significant decisions that impact the entire ecosystem require the participation of many more people. A proposal may start as a germ of an idea and iterate over many months where ideas are gathered and discussed, context grows, and finally, after some time a proposal is raised when it’s ‘ripe’.  Our practice (borrowed from agile practice) is: “Is this good enough for now, safe enough to try,  or will this take organization or mission backwards” if the answer to the first two questions is yes and the third question is no, then the decision is made with the consent of the participants. Not every proposal needs several months to ripen –  sometimes decisions take mere minutes. Sometimes in meetings, a proposal comes out of the blue that is ripe and ready to go, and with enough practice of the mindset have consent and trust decisions can be made very quickly.

Unlear, uncover, discover

As with all of the ideas in Lead Together there is so much to unlearn, uncover, discover, and practice around decision making that it can seem overwhelming. Decision-making techniques like the advice process work best when they are conjoined with healthy and robust roles whereby the decision-making accountabilities are clearly articulated  – but that shouldn’t prevent you from experimenting and starting to make a map of decisions in your organization, thinking about your personal decision practices, and practicing alternatives.

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