When leaders make decisions skillfully, everyone on the team wins. But when leaders are poor decision-makers, the team’s performance and culture suffer, and individual team members can lose confidence and become disengaged.
Unfortunately, though, team members don’t always make good decisions on their own. They may not have the experience or acumen, they may come in with preconceptions, or they may not recognize the ramifications of their choices.
Most of us just make up our minds, without rigorously examining the way we go about it. If, as a leader, you keep finding that you need to step in to correct or drive your team’s decision process, it might be time to actively teach your team members better skills and practices.
Guidelines to Help Your Team Prepare Decisions
It will help your team if you articulate the decision principles you want them to use. Explain the factors that have impact and how you want them to be weighed. Discuss the various aspects of business acumen that are crucial in your organization or industry, right down to specific mathematical computations and language connotations.
You can share some of these prompts to generate more thoughtful discussion:
- Start with situation analysis: What’s the need? What are the opportunities? What could happen if no action is taken? Is this business as usual, or is there something special about this situation?
- What are the specific choices related to behavior, investment, etc.? Highlight them, make them explicit in character and tone, and then compare alternatives.
- What kinds of outcomes do you expect with these choices? What are the subsequent impacts of the possible outcomes — on both the upside and the downside?
- Who will be affected and how? Be self-questioning and as objective as possible, and take into account the views of others who are likely to feel the impact of your team’s decisions.
- What’s at stake for the organization? Describe financial and brand implications, employer status, customer satisfaction, marketplace response, etc.
- Zoom out for the big picture, and then zoom back in for the details. Evaluate current quantitative data as well as historical wisdom: The bigger the issue, the more you need both.
Guardrails to Help Minimize Risk
With practice, most team members will naturally start incorporating these relevant considerations into their own decisions, as well as into the presentation of the decision problems they bring to you for resolution. Depending on their individual weaknesses and perceptions, though, some team members may still drift or flounder under certain conditions.
To prevent confusion and misunderstandings, be on the lookout for these risky situations, and deal with them promptly if they come up:
- Encourage team members to stay connected to the people who are negatively affected by their decisions — whether they’re colleagues, other teams, customers, regulators, etc. This will ensure that necessary follow-up happens and help your team members learn how to make even more effective decisions in future.
- Call out the differences between the appropriate use of data and the application of earned experience. If you go with your experience-trained gut rather than with straight-line extrapolation, less experienced team members could think you’re misjudging or misusing the data, and therefore might be less likely to follow your lead. Or they may try freelancing without having sufficient depth of experience themselves.
- Be wary of team members who repetitively apologize for inaccurate or messy decisions instead of asking for your input. Individuals with this behavior pattern often know they’re bending or breaking rules — they’re just hoping to get away with making decisions beyond their purview, and to back out gracefully if they’re caught.
If team members keep coming to you for decisions rather than figuring things out themselves, even when those decisions fall within their own spans of control, take it as a reminder that you need to do more development with them. Either model the process more consistently or consciously help them analyze and manage risk until, through practice, they become more capable of doing it on their own.
Onward and upward,