The Decision-Making Conundrum
Written by Alex Jimenez
One of the great challenges leaders encounter is a lack of decision making across their teams. You will always have people in leadership positions who are not comfortable making decisions on a large scale, and you will often find people in non-leadership positions who are innate decision makers. While there are a variety of personality studies, teamworking methodologies and other techniques you can share with your teams, it all must start somewhere, and implementing a culture of accountability and objective-setting to foster better decision making is a great place to start.
A culture of accountability is inherent to successful teams. Too many times, I have seen a team formed where there is no assigned accountability. Conversations go around in circles. Everybody has an opinion—and they should—but no progress happens because conversation and consensus are the focus, not the next step forward. Sometimes, team members are more afraid of ruffling feathers than they are of failing to reach the objective. They become frustrated, just as their leaders are frustrated, and often initiatives are abandoned or end up on the so-called “backburner” (the place where good ideas go to die). Here are some simple steps leaders can take to set their teams up for a greater likelihood of success with a culture of accountability:
Each team needs to know who is “Accountable” and who is “Responsible”
- While the person doing the actual task is the Responsible Team Member, the Accountable Team Member is the one who owns the success or failure of the task at hand. They are decision makers and drive the team towards the objective(s). They are the ones who report to leadership on progress.
- The Accountable person does NOT need to be the Senior Resource on the team (based on a hierarchical assignment of accountability). Some of the most successful initiatives are led by team members who may not be the most seasoned but are adept at running initiatives and willing to make decisions. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the person who is highest up on the organization chart is the de facto best leader. They may not be the right fit for everything. Giving less experienced team members opportunities to lead, make decisions, and be held accountable is essential to their growth.
People need to be trusted… and coached.
- Things go left sometimes. It is incredibly rare that everything goes perfectly. The Accountable team member will need continued coaching (especially if they are leading for the first time). They will need to bounce ideas off their leaders and test methods for bringing those ideas to life. Don’t feel the need to swoop in and save them while they work through problems and experience obstacles on the path toward their objective. Let them get decisions wrong (within reason). They will learn and appreciate the experience in the long term.
Keep the objective front and center.
- Always make sure that the accountable team member is keeping an eye on the objective. This consistent reminder of the core objective helps them keep the team focused and avoid chasing too many purple squirrels. This core objective serves as a pillar they can come back to when they need to push forward without the consensus of the entire team.
Being willing to make decisions that will impact an organization and a team is one of the hardest things to do. There is a random statistic that I encountered years ago that is really eye-opening: Good Leaders make the right decision 60% of the time. Think about that. That means for every ten decisions you make you are getting almost 50% of them wrong (the scale of how wrong is an entirely different conversation). I have shared this snippet with almost every staff member who has ever reported to me with one goal: I want them to know it is ok to make the wrong decision. It happens to everyone. The only thing worse than making “the wrong” choice in the moment is not making any choice—delaying progress, losing opportunities or options, or simply sitting still for fear of making a mistake.
There are plenty of situations where the right choice is to do nothing in the moment, but that’s different than avoiding decisions that need to be made. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of great—or worse—the enemy of done. Remind your entire team that decisions always involve risk and must have consequences in order to be important (i.e. consequential). Your team doesn’t need to have a perfect record to be successful or to make progress. Keeping those values at the forefront of your daily work and team culture will go a long way in establishing a mature organization where things get done, not dropped.