Many organizations today are highly collaborative and have highly participatory decision-making processes at the team level. This is good – we want the people who are closest to work to decide how the work is done. It also bodes well for fulfillment at work. Maslow thought that workers needed to feel a sense of belonging to an organization for fulfillment. We’ve learned over time that having our input and suggestions valued is central to our sense of belonging.

However, while more “cooks in the kitchen” is a good thing at work, it forces leaders to delineate how decisions are made.   A challenge I’ve witnessed is that because the default is to talk through problems and make decisions collaboratively, at times, it’s not clear who owns a decision. For example, a leader may include his or her team to inform them of a decision, but not communicate clearly that it’s not time for input because the decision has already been made. These informal conversations can be confusing and, given the fast pace of work, we are all guilty of making assumptions without testing them.

Here are two examples. A client of mine leads a team who’s responsible for external communications for the organization. The team is highly collaborative and makes many decisions about how to position their offering in the market. Recently, the social media team had a timely situation to craft a tweet in response to a competitor’s claim about their offering. The small team collaborated on the 140 characters and sent out the tweet without the leader’s final approval – which they had done many times in the past. The tweet was written more negatively than the leader would have liked and the leader had the team delete the tweet and re-work. Another time, when a positioning document was formally approved for print by the team, the leader showed it to an executive peer and that executive provided unsolicited input.

When the leader expressed frustration about how these two incidents played out – and the damage the rework caused – we identified the root cause – clear communication on decision-making. When making decisions, I encourage leaders to share what I call the “Decision Rules of the Road”. It’s a simple tool – an overview of the types of Decision’s leaders make. The leaders share it with their team as an overview and the tool is used real-time when a decision is at bat. A copy of the tool is below:

decision making

I also have leaders identify the routine decisions that fall into each category – upfront. Using the tweet example shared above, the rule of thumb is for the leader to state upfront the expectation that 95% of tweets can be crafted and executed using Type 4 – Other Owns  (meaning the team in this case) owns the decision, but in 5% of the cases where it’s sensitive, the leader owns the final output). So, the leader or the team, given the sensitive nature of the tweet, could have quickly and easily used the tool to clarify decision-making boundaries.

I’m interested in any decision-making schema or approaches that you have used in your organization that keep decision-making fast and clear.