Don’t Insist on a Decision


During my morning Harvard “Management Tip Of The Day” feed read, I ran across an article that speaks to managerial on-the-spot decision making. The article is printed, in its entirety below and attached as well. It’s pretty self explanatory.


Conventional wisdom holds that a flawed decision is better than no decision. After all, you can always change direction. But, in an attempt to appear decisive, leaders may prematurely push for an answer. And if there isn’t a clear conclusion, they’ll provide one. This undermines a team’s ability to make a collective decision. Pretty soon people stop participating because they assume you’ve made up your mind in advance. If you can’t agree, don’t impose an answer. Instead, end the discussion by putting a process in place that yields decisions—even slowly-made ones—that everyone can accept. That way you won’t lose your people’s goodwill next time around.

Harvard Management Tip Of The Day – 110311


Questions of course,

  • What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
  • Have you ever had a decision made for you during a meeting? How did you feel afterwards?
  • As a manager, what scenarios would cause you to take the decision making process from a teamster and decide it for them?
  • When is this justified?

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David Dejewski

I come from a military background. I’ve been a fire fighter, an EMT, the military equivalent of a paramedic. I am also a member of my local Community Emergency Respnse Team. I have a solid appreciation for making decisions without a committee. I have had plenty of decisions made for me by someone who had more experience than I did, and I was grateful. I’m alive today because of it. I’ve given orders as well and I’ve had the same effect on those I needed to command.
I’ve also been a CIO, a Director, a Chief and had several other fancy suit and tie wearing titles that required me to make oak table decisions. I appreciate the wisdom of crowds and the need to bring opinions to the table that counter or support my own. This approach can lead to better quality decisions under the right circumstances.
In my opinion, there is a place for both types of decision making approaches.
I have often been frustrated by the bureaucratic shenanigans that cause decisions to be delayed for too long – or get watered down to the point that they have zero real impact. I’ve also been frustrated by leaders who couldn’t handle criticism or wouldn’t open their doors to people and ideas that, if engaged, would have lead to better outcomes.
A healthy balance is what I subscribe to. Make a solid decision when that is what is needed. If time, resources and circumstances will allow it (they usually do), bring in additional perspectives.
Circumstances play a big role. Some “leaders” hide behind the committee. They can’t make a hard decision when a hard decision is called for. Other are so insecure that they can’t invite opposing opinions or open an issue up for healthy debate.
How’s this for an idea?: “Cook” leadership well enough so they have the judgement to adapt the correct decision making approach for the circumstances. Expose leaders to both. Teach them when and why each should be used. Then get out of the way.
I always felt I was paid more for my judgement than for anything else. I made decisions for a living. I wasn’t always right, but I did have the wisdom to surround myself with good people who could help me – sometimes to help me decide how best to decide.