Engaging Your Staff for Rapid, Informed Decision Making

These techniques help you access the diverse perspectives that lead to better decisions.

As a leader, it’s your job to make decisions. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should or even can make them alone. The most accurate read on a situation usually comes from those on the front lines. New people offer the freshest perspective. Subject matter experts know the patterns and history others miss. When facing an important decision, you want to learn from them all.

That said, you also want to make the decision this century. If you’ve ever asked a group where you should go for lunch, you know the agony that comes with interminable open-ended group discussions. As a leader in today’s white-knuckled business world, you’re probably allergic to that kind of “analysis paralysis.” Sadly, that’s often what you get when you throw a big decision in front of your team. 

Does that mean you’re stuck making these decisions on your own if you want to move fast? Sometimes, but that can be dangerous.

Research consistently shows that increasing the diversity of perspectives involved in decision making has a big impact on the quality of the final decision. You need to move quickly, but more importantly, you need to make good decisions. That requires input from more people.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can get everyone’s input on a decision in short order. 

First, clarify the decision-making process. 

Whenever you ask for a group’s input on a decision, it’s important to state upfront how the final decision will be made. You may decide by voting. You may need the group to come to a consensus. Most of the time, though, one person has the final decision. 

When it’s your decision to make, start out by telling your group, “I need to make this decision. Before I do, I really need your input.” That simple statement makes your responsibility for the final decision clear.

Option 1: Collect structured input in writing.

Most big decisions require a bit of research. While you could schedule an hour for your team to talk about the relative pros and cons of each option, you’ll get much richer input if you have them each spend that hour writing up their feedback individually.

To get the most useful results, ask everyone to respond to specific questions in the same format. Not sure what to ask? These seven research-backed questions cover the bases for most decisions. 

You could send out your questions and ask folks to get back to you by a certain time, or you could schedule an hour for writing on your team’s calendar as if it was a meeting. Either way, you’re getting detailed input within a time-limited window. 

Option 2: Vote, discuss, and revote. 

When your options are fairly simple, neither you nor your colleagues want to spend too much time analyzing them. Rather than written reports, borrow this facilitators’ technique to get your team’s input.

First, explain the options and ask everyone to privately write down the option they’d pick. There’s no discussion at this point. Then, everyone reveals their vote at once. 

If you see the group unanimously lined up behind a single option, you’re good to go. If, on the other hand, votes are split, invite people to take turns quickly making the case for their preferred option. You might allow a little discussion here, but mostly you should hear from each person who wants to advocate their position. 

After this discussion round, repeat the vote. This second vote reflects the group’s informed opinion. If it’s still split-or even worse if everyone changed their vote-you know you’re either dealing with a trivial issue they don’t care about or you need to do more research.

Option 3: Solicit a level of enthusiasm and a rationale.

When you’re considering a yes/no decision (new hires, acquisitions, etc.), here’s an efficient way to get a range of feedback from your team: Invite each person to consider their support for the decision on a scale of zero to five, where zero means “I can’t support this and will work to block it,” and five means “I love this and am excited to make it happen.” As you go around the room, ask each person to share their number and then briefly explain why they chose that number.

All of these techniques get you great input in less than a day. Once you have their input, thank your group and share what you’ll do next. You might say “Ok, I’ve heard you and here’s what I’m going to do…” or “You’ve given me a lot to consider and I’m going to take some time to think about this some more before deciding.” Then, you’re one step closer toward acting on that big decision you and your team just made.

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