The decision-making process – How to make great decisions as a team?

What are the biggest obstacles when it comes to any decision-making process?

Unclear roles, missing or misinterpreted information, and lack of team alignment are just some of them. The more complex the decision that is to be made – the more complex the problems surrounding it. 

Decisions are nothing more than our best guess about what will bring the most optimal outcome in the future. Having in mind that complexity builds upon complexity, decision-makers must increasingly rely on their intuition and judgment, while also juggling more and more data sources. 

Many psychologists and economists researched obstacles that hide behind every group decision-making process. They all concentrated on how the strategies are developed and how the group navigates them. 

According to McKinsey, almost 72% of senior executives thought their companies made bad decisions as often, or even more often than good decisions. Also, the researchers have concluded that poor or delayed decisions come with a considerable cost – profit, time, talent, and resources are wasted. 

So, what’s behind this tendency to make bad decisions? What can we do to avoid traps of bad decision making, especially within a team?

First of all, let’s see HOW decisions are made.

Hierarchy in a complex decision-making process

What most people do when they have to make a complex decision is they break the problem down into a series of smaller decisions. The next step is making some sort of hierarchy among those sequences. This is pretty straightforward when the sequence of choices leads to the desired outcome. 

However, when the result is not what we hoped for, it’s harder to deduce and decode what exactly went wrong and why. The MIT neuroscientists examined how the brain rationalizes probable causes of failure after a hierarchy of decisions. What they discovered is that the brain performs two computations using a distributed network of areas in the frontal cortex. Simply put, the brain first figures out the level of confidence over the outcome of each decision to compute the most likely cause of a failure. Then, if it’s not easy to discern the cause, the brain makes additional attempts to gain more confidence.

“Creating a hierarchy in one’s mind and navigating that hierarchy while reasoning about outcomes is one of the exciting frontiers of cognitive neuroscience,” 

says Mehrdad Jazayeri, the Robert A. Swanson Career Development Professor of Life Sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

In the end, it all comes to the brain’s ability to measure the degree of confidence in each step of the process. 

The relationship between good decisions and good outcomes

A good decision doesn’t necessarily imply a good outcome. We can make a good decision and have everything go the wrong way. And the other way around – we can make a bad decision and have a good outcome. 

This can cause frustration and blame-shifting, especially in a team environment. However, better decisions consistently undeniably lead to more of better outcomes. 

For this reason, teams should be evaluated not only on whether they succeeded but also based on the effort that was put into the entire decision-making process.

The 6 elements of decision quality

There are six necessary elements to reach a quality decision: a framework for defining what our options are, creative alternatives, useful information, clear values, sound reasoning, and commitment to follow through. The stronger our grip on each of the elements is, the better the decision. 

It’s smart to use this chain of elements as a checklist when inspecting the quality of a decision while we are in the midst of it.

If you’re in doubt, it can also be helpful to go through the following list:

  • I am clear on the problem that I am solving
  • I have identified what I truly want
  • I have generated a good set of alternatives
  • I have gathered the relevant information needed
  • I have evaluated the alternatives in light of the information to find the one that gets me the most of what I truly want
  • I am committed to following through on my choice

When you can respond with a positive answer, you can check the statements of the list one by one.

Decision making and the team

What makes a team successful? A big part of it is definitely making great decisions together and then acting on them. 

How to bring your team together around complex decisions?

So, what are the ways of facilitating successful team decisions?

It’s needless to say how difficult it is for one group of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to be unified when making a decision. But, they can also be a powerful source of change. When working through the problem together, the solution they come up with can be more innovative than what any one person could have come up with on their own.

Of course, the team leader is that one person who carries the weight of the enormous responsibility of bringing together a variety of schedules, personalities, and priorities in hopes of finding some sort of middle ground. 

So, the crucial thing for successful decision making (as it can be very frustrating) is finding the right process and strategy for the specific team. Here are some steps for finding the easier way out:

  • Break down the problem

The very first step is for your team to get to know what exactly is the problem. If there’s confusion, prepare yourself for a proper waste of time. Every single person on the team must know what the underlying problem is, otherwise, it’ll lead to unnecessary misunderstandings.

Be sure to always break down the problem to its most important points, ensuring that everyone is familiar with all of them. 

  • Evaluate the available data

Once a team knows what the problem is, it’s time to gather as much of the data as possible. The team leader is the one who will put the focus on the information and not on opinions or anecdotal evidence.

The collected data should be reliable, verified, and collected before problem-solving to save time.

  • Brainstorm possible solutions

Now when all is set up, the team can concentrate on brainstorming possible solutions. It’s always a good thing to set a deadline for the brainstorming sessions. The team leader should navigate the group discussion, making sure that everyone has a chance to say what’s on their mind, that the group stays on topic, and that the discussion remains cordial. 

  • Settle on a solution and action steps for the next move

When all of the above is conducted in the right way, it is time to come up with a variety of solutions and choose the best alternative. To do so, the team should know what their desired outcome would look like, taking into consideration all the possible consequences.

And, once the decision is made, it’s important that everyone on the team stands behind that decision. 

While these 6 steps don’t mean complete certainty, they do give us an idea of how to be right at least some of the time and what we can improve in the future. Effective decision making in the workplace allows employees to feel secure in their positions, feel a better sense of commitment to the company, and increase overall employee engagement. After all, what defines a good leader is how great their team is.

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