How good are you at making decisions?

Some people find this really rather easy. Others take an age to decide, procrastinate, cogitate, contemplate and tie themselves in knots.

And when it comes to involving a group of people in decision making, you may find that you get the depth and rigour of discussion that you need. But actually making the decision itself is not quite as easy as you would like.

Actually you don’t want it to be too easy. You don’t just want people to simply agree, but to test and probe and question. Otherwise why engage the group in the first place? Decision making is a process like any other and particularly if it is a meaty, chunky decision, you don’t want to cut corners.

There may be times when you just need a show of hands on something, and times when the ground work has been done before the group actually decides on something. But often there is far more involved.

And there are plenty of occasions when you might just decide something yourself. You might not need to consult people.

But many decisions can’t be made unilaterally. Often, as hard as it seems to be, the process of gathering people’s opinions, consulting on an idea, asking for people’s thoughts and obtaining views is vital. You need to engage with your staff or team to see what they think too and to draw on their expertise. Perhaps you are looking to decide where to prioritise a section of your budget in the next quarter. Perhaps you need you decide which area of your team to expand first. You might need to decide on the key parts of your vision for the next 5 years. Or perhaps it’s deciding on what type of Christmas party to have!

decision making

Decision making difficulties

One of the main difficulties in opening something up to a group is the potential for discussions to go round and round in circles without resolution. Great discussion perhaps, but still no decision.

Sometimes there can be really entrenched disagreement, and you cannot move forwards, then what? How do you move past the moment of no movement, where no one will budge…….

Or the converse, where everyone is just too nice and the decision is made too quickly. It just doesn’t feel quite right.

It can be hard to know when the decision is made. When is something good enough, and when do you need to drill down into the minutiae to fully flesh something out?

When it comes to agreement, have you decided what you are looking for?Are you looking for 100% water tight solid consensus, or just something that will enable you to move forwards.

Part of deciding some of these things is knowing the purpose of the decision in the first place. If your decision is something that needs to have something strong built upon it then it is worth spending time, digging deep. But if it is something that is less weighty or perhaps less complex then maybe an easy compromise or something good enough will do.

How can you make the process more productive?

  • Be crystal clear about what you are trying to reach a decision on in the first place. If it is too vast, too woolly then the point of the discussion won’t be clear and you will end up with half hearted ideas.
  • Decide before hand what kind of decision you are looking for – is it a yes/no on something? For example whether to go invest in a new system or not. Or are you looking for several different answers? For example which 5 key elements of your programme are you going to put into a presentation.
  • Present the facts, set the scene and give people a chance to digest this information. Even if people have the facts before hand, it’s good to give them a chance to get in the zone. Thinking time is important.
  • Start off wide. Invite ideas, suggestions and thoughts on the subject. Don’t dismiss offerings from people or you will risk alienating them from the process. This part of playing around with ideas is vital for people to think broadly about all the possible options.
  • From you initial ideas generation, start to narrow down the field. Encourage participants to identify the red herrings, that won’t help with a decision being made and may take you off track. You can “park” these ideas elsewhere, removing them form this part of the discussion

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  • It is worth considering at this stage what you actually want to do with these ideas that are filtered out or parked so that they don’t get left hanging. And to share this with the others in the group. If someone is wedded to a certain idea and it has been filtered out they may not be too happy. But if they know that it has just been put to one side for the moment, and can be returned to they may be prepared to let go for now.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify what people mean, you don’t want to get to the end of the process and realise that it is not clear what the actual decision is.
  • Even if it may seem like everyone has agreed, check. Sometimes it is easy to mistake no comments or lack of argument against a decision being made, as agreement. Reiterate what has tentatively been agreed and ask whether that is what people wanted to say.
  • Watch out for groupthink (where everyone starts to think alike and just agrees because it avoid conflict).
  • Often the simple tools are the best – voting and scoring ideas can be valuable ways to get a clear idea of how people feel about certain ideas. But watch out for the way you use these so you don’t create some kind of misrepresentation of what people actually want. Dot voting is popular but as this blog from North Star Facilitators outlines, it might not always be the best. One prioritisation method I tried recently is MoSCoW where you ask participants to look at all the ideas or options and chose a: Must Have, Should Have, Could Have and Will not Have, although when I used it decided to leave out the W as I felt this would take the group in the wrong direction.
  • If something is particularly contentious or you are getting stuck, take a break.
  • When stuck becomes not moving try asking what people would be willing to do to move a little to the left or right of their decision.
  • Test the decision – ask people what they think will be the outcome of the decision and if necessary take it away for a week or so and reconvene and review that decision.
  • Let people know what will happen next and what the outcome of the decision making process is going to be used for. If you are deciding your priorities and next steps for a project for example – are these set in stone, or are they to be used as guidelines and further scrutinised by management later?

How do you make decisions with a group of people, and what works best for you?

If you liked this blog, you might want to check out my blog on group facilitation and how it can help when working with a group.

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