Discussing devilish Decision making

Key points

  • Decision making is being involved in something and being able to understand why a decision is made.
  • Standing still and taking control.
  • Decision making is crucial to success of a project, business or team. Crucial to our team.
  • Making a decision is just a snap shot….before and after is also crucial.

Everything I say is applicable to personal decisions, business decisions and group decisions.

My own experience of decision making is that I used to be terrible at it. I didn’t like to impose, I was unassuming and I never really asked myself what I wanted; much easier to let others decide for me. But now, I’m not afraid. I like taking control and ownership of my life and what I’m doing. My Grandad always taught me, “get out there and get involved”, he was a strong socialist, consequently I learnt if you want to change something or want a specific decision, then you have to make it happen, you have to be a part of the process, just sitting on the side lines is not the way to go.

My decision making is by no means perfect, I’ve made monumentally bad decisions, and I’ve made massive mistakes that I simply can’t justify. For example, I chose to do law and I did very well, but I knew I always wanted to do business. Consequently, I made a decision based on what was easier at the time and what I “should” be doing, instead of what I “wanted” to do. Of course it is far easier to go along with other people’s decisions instead of making your own. Hence when asked, “Why on earth did you decide to do law?” – I can’t really answer you, I just drifted into it on the basis that my mum said I was good at essays and she thought I’d make a good lawyer. My life changing decision was based on someone else’s decision for me and I just wasn’t strong enough or assertive enough to make my own.

Making the decision to change and to study business was not only a daunting decision and the right one, but it was hugely empowering. Whilst like any decision making, I had to deal with the fall out within my family, I knew in my heart, it was the right decision for me. Also, even if it was the wrong decision, because it was my decision, it didn’t seem to matter. Moreover, I would be able to give a long list of justification for making that decision, a crucial ingredient to any decision; reason and belief.

Within our current group settings across all the modules, but mostly personal effectiveness, we constantly make decisions without thought, without understanding and without team engagement. Many members, if asked why we completed the task in a certain way, would have no idea why as they are not involved in the process. In a group decision, every single member should be able to justify a decision or at least understand where it came from and if you’re unable to do that, then you’re not actually getting involved in the decision making process. (Hills 2001)

What are decisions?

We make decisions when we are motivated and things are important to us. You want to do it, not you “have” too necessarily. You’re passionate about it; there is an element of grasping control and settling on a course of action. Decisions give focus; encourage engagement and aid team understanding of the progression ahead. Steven Covey (1999: 16) considers team decision making as not just an active process but a “synergistic product of many minds”. Such synergy and involvement within the decision making process, only comes from involvement in the process itself.

With this knowledge I’ve been considering our team at the moment and our poor decision making. Our decisions are quick, often random, made by the more activist of the group. We have an ethos of where making the decision seems to be the work almost done and the hard part, the team doesn’t think about how we are going to make their decisions and goals actually happen. Consequently, we leave a room without practical plans or deadlines, anyone who tries to impose them or suggest them, is either ignored or told “we’ll sort the details later”. Moreover, there is a complete lack of engagement with the process. I have found this very frustrating and I began to reflect on times when I doing engage in decision making and reasons why I may avoid it. Furthermore, as a team we don’t reconsider, re-evaluate or reflect on our decisions to consider their effectiveness. Once the decision is made, that is seemingly job done.

I came up with the smoking example. I’m decisive about my work, in business, academically and in regards to how I like to dress, you can see that I’m very passionate about those things. I put time into them because I see the value and the importance of them. I used to smoke 20-25 a day and it took me years to give up smoking. I flirted with the possible decision of giving up for years, I wanted to give up, but on reflection it wasn’t important enough to force me to make the decision. I didn’t engage in a decision making process, I kept trying to make quick decisions announcing “I’ve quit” without actually considering how I was going to make sure, I actually quit and what it would mean to give up smoking. Eventually, giving up smoking became a priority and I engaged in a logical process to get to the point of making the decision. This practical example has given me clarity on why our team is avoiding making decisions as a unit. The team isn’t that important to us and neither is the task.

Van Grinsven (2011) postulates two essential ingredients for decision making as a team; empowerment and knowledge conversion.

  • Empowerment-  will, capacity, confidence, engagement with decision, willed transformation from choice into desired action, self-leadership, participation, energy, autonomy, commitment, challenging the norm, interest and passion. Having the motivation to make a decision.
  • Knowledge – Base decision on, protocols, experience, shared group learning, expertise, willingness to go out and learn, ability to make an informed decision (not necessarily right or wrong – but if questioned….you could explain), try something new, and willingness to absorb information from others. Having the knowledge to make a decision.

In my writing here, I put empowerment first as I believe that it is the central part to any decision – not necessarily knowledge. If you had the knowledge, you wouldn’t necessarily feel empowered to make a decision. But if you were empowered, you’d feel empowered enough to go acquire the knowledge, to make the decision.

Levinthal and March (1993) put forward two additional boosting factors; Exploitation and Exploration.

  • Exploitation – playing to your strengths….
  • Exploration – The process before……more important than the decision. Making a decision isn’t job done….need to understand why it was made, factors that influence it, contingency plan, challenging, exploring other options…..

Within my reflections of my own decision making and team decision making, I considered the Honey and Mumford learning styles. Who within our team is a reflector, an activist, a pragmatist or a theorist? Hills (2001) suggests that using these learning styles we can explain the process of decision making or how it “should” be done ideally. Within that we can assess how each learning style can contribute and compliment within the decision making process.

Hills (2001) puts forward the PART framework for good decision making within a team; this involves concrete self-awareness:

Pragmatists – Beginning, considers the overview, the strategy, formulating a practical plan behind a decision. Formulating A to B and the in between.

Activists – Want to get going and decide, these are the driving force. Stops the decision taking too long and people getting too bogged down in the details.

Reflector – Observing the process, reassessing….might see things others don’t, provides feedback and has an awareness others just don’t have. Re-evaluating decisions if needed.

Theorist- Big picture thinker, exploring options, needing to understand the context…..

Whilst I haven’t been able to identify exactly learning types within our team’s decision making process, I have been able to pick up certain decision making characteristics within the team;

  • People who are disengaged…..
  • People who go along with the majority….
  • People who sit quietly thinking it is a bad decision but say nothing…..
  • People who shout loudly and just want the decision to be over…..
  • People who play devil’s advocate….point out challenges, other options….
  • People who are just negative…..
  • People who don’t have the patience to explore ideas…..
  • People who consider the practicalities and impacts of a decision…..
  • People who need to define goals and objectives before starting the decision making process…..
  • People who like to brainstorm?
  • People who like structure decision making?

From the sustainability project decision making process, I can see that our team has a dominance of activists and potentially quite a few reflectors. But we lack with the pragmatics. I am very pragmatic when it comes to decision making but due to the dominance of activists, our decision making is quick, superficial and often without rationale. Making the decision making longer with more structure is viewed as hindering the process and slowing things down. The decisions and the tasks are motivated with the urge to just get them done.

So the key to improving on personal decision making and decision making within the team is as always, self-awareness. Knowing who you are in the process and the impact it may have on the rest of the team and to most importantly challenge it.

  • I used to be the girl who reflected all the time and barely said a thing. I avoided decision making because I avoided any possible confrontation. Consequently, I felt frustrated!!!
  • Then I became a lot more dominant….stopped listening to other’s ideas. I became so bothered about putting forward my own ideas or points towards the decision making process, that I didn’t listen to the valuable contribution others have.
  • NOW – I need to define goals and objects and have a clear understanding before I make decisions or before they can make sense to me. I like bouncing off other team members to build on an idea. I like my contributions to be valued, but I am able to value others too. Putting all ideas on the table from individuals and then exploring and sifting through them as a team.

In theory, our method of PM sharing should demonstrate and facilitate different types of decision making processes.  We will each take our own interpretation of leading and decision making and facilitate that….building week on week from what we have learnt from previous leadership. That way, we will learn what works for us as one unit and also gives an opportunity to try things we wouldn’t have done, if we just kept repeating the same thing week after week.

Ball example.

I define decision making as completely standing still and deciding on a route forward to an objective.

A practical example of this would be to take a ball with the aim of rolling it from point A to point B. How would you start the decision making process?

  • Define the task and where point A is and point B is, i.e. setting the end objectives.
  • We’d then define what the ball is, what it can and can’t do. As a team what our strengths and weaknesses are and possible knowledge gaps.
  • How are we going to get to point B? Are there obstacles in the way?
  • Identify the obstacles and formulate plans of how the ball can get around them. This would involve developing a strategy, using the awareness of the team, experience and developing of an action plan.
  • Now once we’ve set on a course of action, what do we need to do? This is an area that our team lacks in and has so far not managed to grasp in relation to our team projects. Logically, the ball isn’t going to move on its own, it needs to be pushed in a specific direction, which requires effort. Likewise, within our projects, making the decision isn’t the means to an end itself; it is also about driving the team forward.
  • Once on course, we may discover in front of the ball, there is another obstacle we hadn’t anticipated. Relating back to the initial decision, the team needs to be reactive. In the ball example, you wouldn’t just let the ball role off in the wrong direction or hit something, you’d adapt the route.
  • What if we miss our target completely? Or hit our target? Need to capture everything we have learnt and re-use it. This is a reflective moment, judging the good and the bad.

Within such a practical group example of the ball, the decisions would be made together, there would be mutual understanding of the decision, it wouldn’t matter if others didn’t agree or brought up points that disagreed with the course of action as these would simply increase your awareness of what outsiders might say about the decision or possible obstacle…you can prepare for these!

It isn’t just the actual decision making that is important, it is the evaluation of whether the decision was good, bad, weak or fit for purpose? Within our team, reflection is often missed out. The decision is made, it isn’t evaluated whilst the project is trying to achieve the objectives, it isn’t judged on its impact and it isn’t reflected on. The team simply moves onto the next decision. But reflecting on decisions is important. Hills (2001) suggests using the “black seat” as a tool. Instead of just reflecting, which people often use as a simply negative tool, you routinely at the beginning of a task, sit for 5/10mins and goes around each person and they have to say one thing that was bad about the last task that could be done differently? One thing that was good, that should be brought forward into this current task. This should happen even if the task was brilliant and even if everything fell apart. Performance and output, in terms of its impact on future performance is useless unless the team understands which the good decisions were and why things played out the way they did. Acknowledging success and failure as a team feeds into Hills (2001) idea that awareness is the first point of learning.

Another interesting element to our decision making within the group is where the decisions that are made actually come from. There is a distinct inability to justify or understand where certain decisions come from because very few people are involved in the decision process. The more activist members of the group decide what certain members will do within the next task. For example with the entrepreneur’s forum task, which we are currently working on, firstly we have fallen into the same trap of not breaking down or planning out the task. Secondly, the roles were decided on the basis of one member not wanting to do the same role as last time, consequently every single member is doing something different. The roles have not been broken down and explored. The roles once again are “research”, “presentation” and “delivery”.

Such autocratic and decision making, in my opinion, based on speed rather than any strategic rationale, has left the group once again not engaged with the project because they aren’t engaged with the process. But the decision process was quick, easy and it enabled the team to walk out the room believing they had taken a productive step, where as it was simply superficial. My function in this decision making was to take a step back. I didn’t want to be as dominant in this one or want the “Rachel, you understand, will you just do it?” mentality which goes on. However, I’m extremely excited about this project, I have lots of ideas.

To move our group forward, I consider the only thing is to prove how beneficial the group decision making is. The essential element falls on proving that if we take the time to decide and plan the task now, it will actual save us time in the long run. But there are many other benefits to group decision making that our team could utilise:

  • You snowball off each other….ideas….surprise each other.
  • Collective…not on your own….more confidence to try.
  • Stand or fall together. We look successful together, we look brilliant together, we look foolish together, we look unprepared together, and we fail together.
  • People who don’t contribute that much, think they are hiding but conversely they become easy targets to blame for unsuccessful decisions…..
  • Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you’ve all committed to a decision and worked hard….you merely learn from it….something about teams that picks you up, whereas if you see a decision and drop it like a hot potato, then you’re always going to fail, that is always the reason you’re going to fail and there is nothing really to pick you up….
  • Moreover, the end product is often irrelevant. You have to show how you got there? If you got a 1st at University, somewhere you made the decision that you wanted to do well and to work hard. Now if you went into a job interview, job application, business networking….you doesn’t just say “I got a first” and that does the talking. People are interested in how you did it……the skills you developed…….same with a bad decision….so what? If you can stand up and say this is why I did it, but it went wrong….then it isn’t a mistake or a bad decision. Learnt from it!
  • Law course…..within group decision making especially….by not making a decision or being involved in the decision making process, you are actually making a decision.
  • A big decision often means lots of smaller decisions…potentially within a framework of deadlines….can have a knock on effect.

With so much discussion on what decision making is and how it functions within my team dynamic, it is interesting to consider what makes an effective decision maker and effective decision making.

Stephen Covey (1999) in his book, “Seven Habits of highly effective people”, considered that ineffective decision making consists of:

  • Value independence above interdependence.  The team is actually a group of individuals that seeks out only personal satisfaction.
  • Based on assumption “way we see things are the way they are or way they should be” – varying perceptions should be valued. We should value alternate opinions or suggestions, as an opportunity to challenge ourselves.
  • Two people, same problem, two different approaches – one considered right and one considered wrong, at first glance…..”Where we stand depends on where we sit”……how does the team decide on which? Ideally, should consider, which is more effective, efficient, best results, most innovative, best delivery potential and gives the best opportunities to learn. It may turn out that both ideas are fantastic and elements of each could be used.

Moreover, Covey (1999) considers that an effective decision maker is one that knows who are they are within the decision making process. They also have the knowledge, the skills and are willing to try and have the motivation to see the decision through. They feel empowered to make the decision. As I have mentioned previously, self-awareness and motivation are the key factors, if you have those they not having the skills or knowledge is ok. You’ll be aware of what you’re lacking and you’ll be motivated to get out there and learn more.

On reading Covey’s book, several important points stuck out that I took and believe that they could be applied to personal or team decision making to enhance its effectiveness. Decision making is a crucial part of business practice and sometimes has to be done rapidly.

  • Proactive– Decision making requires proactivity, stimulus and response. If you’re not stimulated then you won’t respond and make an effective decision. Embrace initiative; be responsible for your own work and the team’s. The team has the ability to be proactive and take responsibility as a team; it shouldn’t be one pushy individual.
  • Decide or be decided upon– Often when people are unsure or not engaged in the process, people wait for others to make the decisions and to be told what to do. This happens a lot within our team….but are successful business people and entrepreneurs people who just sat around waiting to be told what to do? No! Taking responsibility. This involves being creative, resourceful and not just giving up if it is hard.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Two stages of creation….visualise what you need to do, plan it, construct it and make the necessary decisions. The next stage is about actively creating it. Need to define what you are trying to accomplish, need to break the project down in task, what are we being asked to achieve. Even if it has been defined in a brief for you, the group will have an interpretation of that.
  • Empowerment. Lead, support, inspire…..let others take chances, expose themselves and pick them back up…..as an individual, even as a core group. As a singular person, we don’t have the power or the knowledge to make the projects happen or know what the right decisions are, but with a large number of people to work on them then we do have the power to make them happen. This doesn’t mean that it is strength in numbers, which our sustainability project taught me, completing a project is not the same as completing a project well. In order for this to happen, each member should feel empowered to take control of the project and work together as a collective, because as one unit, we can do it. And do it well.
  • Within a decision roles – We decisions have been made; roles and the decisions themselves need to be broken down into an action plan. Our team has fallen foul on many occasions to either not fully grasping others/their role or having the wrong expectation.
  • Time management….Make time to make decisions…..meetings are useful, means of evaluating decisions, progress, needs reassessment. Prioritise the decisions, do they all need to be made now? Time should not just be spent on the urgent decisions; a team doesn’t want to simply be reactive. It wants to be proactive in the long term and with long term awareness. Consequently, the meetings need to be more defined with objectives and summarised at the end.
  • Delegation – delegating to time…..setting aside time to decide to explore….better in the long run, more efficient. Delegation within that time, to people….more effective. Promotes the stewardship type of delegation, setting an end goal, but the method you end up to get there, is up to you and it may be a completely different process, to what someone else has done. Feed it back into the group.
  • Interpersonal leadership. Use of win/win….mutual benefit/ Decisions give benefit, productive, direction….invent options for mutual gain, get buy in of both parties. Everyone needs to win somehow. Do not use lose/win; decision making just to agree or be popular or win/lose; manipulating and not listening to get your opinion of the decision put forward. Our group does a lot of the lose/win scenario due to friendships being within the group. We haven’t found a mutual benefit for being a part of the team yet.
  • Seek first to understand then to be understood – Register, reflect, understand…..problem solving, need to diagnose before you jump in so need to fully consider before you dismiss each idea…..evaluate, probe, advise and interpret…….”synergy!” Secondly and only after you have respectfully listened to others, do you seek understanding? This is an active two way process and will set up a certain element of exchange and participation within the decision making process.
  • Synergise – Be collectively creative, the decision making process should be stepping into unknown; an adventure. As a team our aspirations as entrepreneurs should be to be trail blazers and pathfinders? Are you open to new possibilities that are reflected in team decisions? Value differences.
  • Sharpen the saw – Crucially, to take time out of the decision making process to reflect and rest. It is also important to remember that personal and team decision making is not perfect all the time, even when you think you fully grasp the process, suddenly something will go completely wrong.

Within this reflection and exploration about decision making, I’ve considered what a decision is and their importance. I’ve looked at why in teams decisions are so important, the effect of the team within decision making and why it is important in business to make decisions. I’ve considered how personalities and work ethic, impact on the type of decision maker we are especially within a group dimension. I’ve also considered ineffective decisions within my team and explored how to make an effective decision, with the context of taking some of this forward into future team work.

Take away message for into next week…..the decision is crucial but on its own is just a snap shot. The process before, the exploring, the logical and pragmatic thinking, the creativity, setting the end goals, ensuring understanding, feeding off ideas, understanding the task ahead is central to the ensuring decision making engagement within teams. Moreover, the actions after the decision making will illustrate the level of engagement with the business task at hand and the team via the energy, the actions, carrying out the tasks, the reassessments and most importantly, the deliverable performance. The end performance and product, is crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the decision making.


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