The Fatal Flaws of Outdated Team Decision-Making Methods

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Teams don’t make decisions. Individuals make decisions. Every decision must have someone’s name written next to it. 

The idea that there is such thing as a “team decision” is one of the biggest myths in leadership.

And correcting that myth could represent a significant leadership breakthrough.

Someone must own the outcome. Someone must pace around thinking through every ramification and potential hurdle.

In his Harvard Business Review blog postIf You Think Your Team Makes Decisions, Think Again, Bob Frisch wrote, “Executive teams may discuss issues, debate courses of action, and even give their stamps of approval, but they actually don’t decide anything of moment as a group…It is the leader, not the group, who ultimately allows that particular decision to go through.”

So, if your goal is great decisions how should you work with your team?

1.  Start by clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations.

Instead of saying, “Team, we have a decision to make today,” it should be, “Team, I have a decision to make today, (or “Susan has a decision to make today”) and your help is required.”

2.   Set the decision-maker up for success.

If you have given Susan the responsibility for a decision, you must also confer on her the authority to make that decision. Let the team know that it’s her call. And it’s her responsibility to ensure its success.

3.   Coach the team in how to support the decision.

By all means, coach your team to rigorously discuss and debate the ideas on the table. Individual members of the team may, or may not, agree with the decision reached by you or Susan. Your job then becomes coaching the team on how to support that decision even when they disagree.

One of the key members of our team will regularly consult with me when I’ve made a tough decision. If he doesn’t agree with me he will always say, “Scott, I see this differently. But I will support you 100 percent”

If you allow the team-decision myth to live on, you risk losing accountability and ownership for that decision. Follow through can become sporadic and momentum can be easily lost.

Always make sure that every decision has a name written next to it. Make sure it is clear who has the responsibility and authority to make a call, and coach your team toward honest feedback and support of decisions made.

Because teams don’t make decisions.

Individuals make decisions.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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