“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
~Peter F. Drucker
Being a business leader in today’s climate means more than managing the day to day operations of your unit or enterprise, it means understanding how to get the most out your human capital while acknowledging your limited resources. This means taking on the responsibility of looking out for your team and owning up to them when you need their help. Doing this is harder than it may seem, as people do not automatically trust and respect their leaders, but instead need to build a trust and rapport that allows them to understand why you may be turning to them on an issue. The more you do it, though, the better the results.
Many managers (but few leaders) believe that making quick binding decisions is the essence of being a successful leader. This is of course not true. It is imperative for the leader to be able to assess situations quickly, know whether they have adequate information, and make a decision. The key of course in that statement is knowing whether they have enough information.
Team Decision Making
The key considerations in decision making are assessing the time available to make the decision, reviewing the information that has been provided and determining if you are the best person to make a decision. In considering the last point many managers want to push the decision up to their executive team but few consider looking back to the expertise of their own staff.
There are many benefits to taking decisions back to your team. Some of the key benefits include increased engagement of staff, consensus decisions that when implemented already have buy-in from the staff that do the work, and finally and most importantly: better decisions.
If your work unit has been tasked with developing a new marketing strategy, you can ask staff to provide you with all the reports and data and you can make a decision about what you think is the best way to market the business or product. On the other hand you can gather everyone together that provided the information and make a decision together. Often leaders find that while a data set may show information that would lead you to make one decision, a conversation among staff about the decision may provide new insight that will move you in a different direction.
Using the marketing strategy for a product as an example, sales data may show that there is increasing demand for the type of product you are selling. However, you may have a separate staff person that has looked at demographics and they may show positive growth in the age range of the target market but notice that the geographic target of the marketing campaign may be directed at an area that does not match the demographics.
This is not a universal solution for all decisions and a good leader can assess which decisions can be done by consensus, which require a group discussion with the leader making the final decision, and which must be made by the leader alone. A further thought on this is that as stated the leader must take the timelines of a decision into consideration. Consensus decision-making may make better decisions some of the time but they take longer as people must be informed on the issue and then come together to discuss it.
Team Dynamics and Engagement
A leader that is new to a work unit or team cannot start making consensus decisions immediately. The cement that lets it work is trust. The leader has to trust that their team is capable of working together to create a better decision than the leader would have on their own. Conversely the team needs to trust the leader and their workmates enough that they feel that they can express their opinion without retribution or condescension.
The situation that this presents is a little bit like the chicken and the egg but the new leader can foster the environment and inform themselves of issues as they begin to work in this way. Start out with easy decisions that have smaller impact and move up from there. Reward people that speak their mind (so long as they have evidence to back it up) and discourage those that try and close down a conversation if they disagree. A good tactic here is when someone disagrees, ask them to lay out their key concerns and tell why they are relevant to the discussions. This brings them into the discussion and makes those that want to express themselves feel supported by the leader.
Generally, the end result of continuous use of this form of decision making is increased engagement in work and increased trust both within the unit and more importantly between staff and the leader. As most leaders know, with an engaged workforce that trusts their leadership, productivity will increase and staff turnover will decrease. Not bad outcomes for just making room for a little conversation.
Author: Georgina Stamp works in the interim management industry for Marble Hill Partners. Georgina understands that business leaders have important decisions to make and harnessing the knowledge of your team is part of the role.