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How do you make a decision that requires collaboration? To solicit input from colleagues, you might call someone, talk to co-workers at their desks, start a discussion via email, or set up a meeting with the people you think are necessary.
For many decisions, those methods are perfectly adequate. But for an important, complex decision – especially one that’s not made routinely – the flaws with the common approaches are more glaring.
If you’re not using a collaborative decision-making system like 12sprints, what might you be missing out on? None of the following are flaws that you can’t work around, but a CDM system can make it more likely that your process for reaching a decision is solid.

Focus

Do meetings that you’ve scheduled for decision-making stay focused on the topic at hand? Unless you have an experienced facilitator leading your group, it’s easy for conversations to go off on tangents, especially if you’ve set aside what initially seems like a generous amount of time to reach consensus. A meeting might swing wildly off topic, only to have the participants rush to a decision near the end, not make a decision at all, or table it for yet another meeting. In an online forum, it’s easier to call out (or just ignore) irrelevant comments, since the interpersonal politics and niceties of live interactions are taken out of the equation.

Easy access to decision-making methods

When you get together in a group, are you confident that you’re using the most appropriate technique for comparing options? Is a cost-benefit analysis appropriate? Is a simple pro and con list enough? How can you find out about techniques that you might otherwise overlook? In a collaborative decision-making system, you can view a menu of common methods, making it more likely that you’ll pick the one that best fits your needs.

Enough time

If you don’t need to make a decision right away, why create an artificial deadline – by trying to come to a conclusion by the end of a scheduled meeting? Leave the discussion open until your real deadline, and allow time for additional options and perspectives to percolate. Group members can log on and write a comment when an idea comes to mind.

Openness

Do politeness and courtesy stifle the creativity that’s required when you brainstorm in a group setting? Do workgroup hierarchies determine whose voice is heard most? In addition to helping keep conversations focused, an online setting can help your group breach the formalities that stand in the way of a truly open dialogue – one that values the quality of an idea rather than its source.

Factual data

How confident are you in the accuracy of the numbers you base your decisions on? Do you allow time for your group to vet the sources and quality of the data included in the discussion? In emails, it’s easy to quote data without citing a source, and in person, it’s not uncommon for hearsay and speculation to become unquestioned “fact memes” by virtue of repetition and convenience. Wouldn’t you rather have the ability to verify the numbers – or better yet, see direct links to the sources?

A push towards consensus

Have you ever been in a meeting where no one had the guts to drive towards a final decision, and the group took the easy way out by postponing the choice? In some cases, this is a perfectly valid outcome, particularly if data is missing or the right people weren’t invited. But if the right people are present and it’s time to make a final call, there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a decision delayed because of waffling or ambivalence. With a collaborative decision-making system, you can drive towards consensus by doing something as simple as laying out the options and proposing a majority vote.

Task assignments

Great. You’ve made a decision. Now what? Even if you were able to reach a conclusion in an unfacilitated meeting, do you know exactly what needs to be done next, and by whom? Are you relying on someone to take notes and send out a list of next steps and task owners after the meeting? And even if you’ve got a note-taker, wouldn’t it be better if he were prompted to assign tasks directly in system where the decision was made, indelibly linking the assignments to the decision outcome and making it harder to shirk responsibility?

Auditability

Post-mortems are one of the most overlooked best practices for decision-making, according to experts like J. Edward Russo and Paul J. H. Schoemaker, authors of Winning Decisions. It’s hard to learn from something you don’t review, and it’s hard to review something that’s not recorded in a convenient location. When you face a similar decision in the future, is it easy to see your reasoning for the last decision? If your goal isn’t to learn, but just to maintain a record of culpability, how easy is it to look up the people involved and the thought process they undertook? If you made the decision via a series of phone calls, desk-side chats, and emails, how easy is it to confirm that any assumptions you made are still accurate?
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