By Judith Stein
A decision-making model describes the method a team will use to make decisions. The most important factor in successful decision-making is that every team member is clear about how a particular decision will be made. Who will be making the decision? How will team members be involved? By when? Knowing these things allows team members to be fully informed participants in discussions - "Will we be giving input to the team leader so he can make the decision?" or "Will we need to discuss this topic and come to agreement during this meeting?"
Knowing how a particular decision will be made can also help a team plan their meeting agendas more effectively and lead to more collaborative team process. Most importantly, understanding how decisions will be made helps to build support for the final decision and active commitment to that decision's implementation. Because effective teams work towards the fullest participation of each member, teams often use some version of a consensus decision-making model. When used appropriately, this model of decision-making can maximize the quality of a team's decisions. (See more on consensus decisions below.)
There are a number of possible models for decision-making; each of these models may be appropriate for particular types of decisions. From least participatory to most, some examples of decision-making models include:
Team leader decides and informs the team
Team leader gathers input from team then decides
Consensus with a fallback
Team leader sets constraints and delegates decisions to team members
Some teams might also use a "majority rules" voting method for some decisions. While this method is familiar to most of us, on important decisions it can leave some team members feeling like they have "lost." Majority vote can be an effective decision-making model for low-impact decisions, but it will be less effective in values-laden decisions or decisions where active buy-in is crucial. At a minimum, it would be important to have thoughtful and inclusive discussion prior to any major "majority rules" decision-making.
More on consensus
Now that we know that consensus decision-making is not necessarily unanimous support for a particular decision, it is important to define just what consensus decision-making is. Consensus is achieved when everyone on the team has had ample opportunity to have his or her ideas considered and can fully support the team's decision. Consensus decisions mean that the entire team has come to agreement on a course of action, even if individuals might have a different preference. Consensus decisions often lead to completely new solutions that the team arrives at in the course of its discussion.
In the course of the discussion leading to consensus, individual team members may change their ideas (based on new information or perspectives from their team) or they may decide to defer their individual feelings or needs to those of the team. The key point is that this process is deliberate and fully voluntary on the part of the team member. Positive reasons why individuals modify their positions to support a team's decision include:
- Agreement with most parts of the proposed decision
- A decision to let go of a non-crucial element of their point of view in order to strengthen team alignment on the topic
- Understanding that the final decision does not compromise their values
- An assessment that the final decision has the best chance for successful implementation because so many members of the team support it
Reaching consensus can take time, although consensus-based decision-making gets easier with practice. Teams using a consensus-based decision-making model will need to develop good meeting practices to make sure that every individual has an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. The ability to define the decision topic clearly, and the ability to build agreements and sensitivity to the team's process will all help successful decision-making by consensus.
It is important that the team pay attention to group process so that no team member changes his or her mind because they fear repercussions for disagreement, or they are somehow "bullied" by the team (through hostile remarks or "friendly teasing") into changing their views.
Team members can check for consensus by seeing if each member of the team can agree to the following four statements:
- I've heard your positions.
- I believe you've heard my position.
- The decision does not compromise my values.
- I can fully support the proposed decision and its implementation.
In good consensus decision-making, every member of the team must feel that they have been listened to and that their ideas have been given a fair assessment.
This article is adapted, in part, from materials from Interaction Associates, LLC, Mastering Meetings.