The first stage should be free discussion, in which all points of view and all aspects of an issue are openly welcomed and debated. The greater the disagreement and controversy, the more important becomes the word free in free discussion . This sounds obvious, but it’s not often the practice. Usually when a meeting get heated, participants hang back, trying to sense the direction of things, saying nothing until they see what view is likely to prevail or what the managers have to say. They then throw their support behind that view to avoid being associated with a losing position.
Bizarre as it may seem, some organizations actually encourage such behavior. This is a terrible way to manage. All it produces is bad decisions, because if knowledgeable people withhold opinions, whatever is decided will be based in information and insight less complete than it could have been otherwise.
The next step is reaching a clear decision. Again, the greater the disagreement about the issue, the more the portant becomes the word clear in clear decision. In fact, particular pains should be taken to frame the terms of the decision with utter clarity. Again, our tendency is to do just the opposite: when we know a decision is controversial we want to obscure matters to avoid an argument. But the argument is not avoided, merely postponed. People who don’t like a decision will be a lot madder if they don’t get a prompt and straight story about it.
Finally, everyone involved must give the decision reached by the group full support. This does not necessarily mean agreement: so long as the participants commit to back the decision, that is a satisfactory outcome. Many people have trouble supporting a decision with which they do not agree, but that they need to do so is simply inevitable. Even when we all have the same facts and we all have the interests of an organization in mind, we tend to have honest, strongly felt, real differences of opinion. No matter how much time we may spend trying to forge agreement, we just won’t be able to get it on many issues.
But an organization does not live by its members agreeing with one another at all times about everything. It lives instead by people committing to support the decisions. All a manager can expect is that the commitment to support is honestly present, and this is something he can and must get from everyone.
What a good decision looks like?
To make a good decision you need to answer those 6 questions:
- What decision needs to be made?
- When does it have to be made?
- Who will decide?
- Who will need to be consulted prior to making the decision?
- Who will ratify or veto the decision?
- Who will need to be informed of the decision?
If good decision-making appears complicated that’s because it is and has been for a long time. Alfred Sloan, who spent a lifetime preoccupied with decision-making said: “Group decisions do not always come easily. There is a strong temptation for the leading officers to make decisions themselves without the sometimes onerous process of discussion.” Because the process is indeed onerous, people sometimes try to run away from it.
In a culture where you can make decisions without consulting anybody, so can everybody else.
A great decision-making meeting does the following :
- Gets a decision made;
- Includes the people most directly affected by the decision as well as a clearly designated decision-maker;
- Presents all credible options objectively and with relevant background information, and includes the team’s recommendation if there is one;
- Gives equal airtime to dissenting opinions and makes people feel that they were heard;