Shifting The Team Towards Collaborative Decision Making

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2021

Teams often do two things that get in the way of good and efficient decision making:

#1 They talk for too long without being clear of the point of the discussion

#2 They rely heavily on the leader of the team to make most of the calls.

There are lots of reasons for teams to fall victim to these two unhelpful behaviors:

A couple of reasons for #1 – not being clear about the point of the discussion

  • it would be common for a discussion to kick off without anyone really knowing what the objective of the discussion is, and

  • there are lots of bright people on the team who like to contribute their ideas

A couple of reasons for #2 – relying heavily on the leader

  • we’re used to that approach (and most leaders perpetuate this unknowingly)

  • it means we don’t all have to reach consensus and is therefore faster

Here are three things that you can do to help your team shift towards better collaborative decision making processes:

1. Ask: “Can I ask why we are having this discussion?”

Either during, or at the beginning of a team discussion ask why we are having this discussion. You can then follow with “What are we trying to decide? and How are we going to do this?”

This lifts the team out of the discussion temporarily and helps the team clarify what the point of the discussion is. The answer might be that the discussion is simply to consult the team, generate ideas or feedback and therefore requires no team decision. On the other hand it might require a collective buy-in to a decision and therefore debate and some form of collective agreement. By asking the team to consider the point of the discussion, it has the effect of focusing the team on what needs to be done.

2. Clearly set up your own items for the right type of team engagement

If you are bringing something to the table to be discussed in a team meeting, be explicit at the start of a discussion which of the following options the discussion is leading to:

  • Level 1: a joint or collaborative team decision – consensus

  • Level 2: seeking input or ideas from the team, (so that you can tap into the team’s brain trust for ideas and feedback)

  • Level 3: a ‘FYI’: informing the team of what you are doing or have decided to do, no decisions to be made.

3. Track decisions and any actions

Help the team to build a discipline or habit of recording all decisions and actions at the time they are made and ideally in a way that the team can see what is being recorded so that there is no confusion.

We suggest you use some agreed system for tracking and accessing team decisions. We call it an AARC table (Agreements, Actions, Responsible Parties and Comms). This provides clarity as to what has been decided, who is to do what by when and what may need to be communicated outside of the team.

These three tactics will help shift the team to more collaborative decision making.

We encourage you to share these with your team and the team’s leader so that your intent is transparent. After all this is good medicine for the team.

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