A major factor of deficiency in many organizations are unclear decision and thus falling short in most meeting goals: are the relevant people present? Are there more than the relevant people present? What do we need to take the decision? Is this group of people empowered to take this decision and what does it mean? In the consequence: is this decision valid and good, or will it be discussed again in the next meeting, in a slightly different group of people, challenged, questioned, ignored, resolved, and in a consequence both meetings wasted?

Self organizing teams need clarity about their decisions to take, as well as about clear strategies how to take them, so that as a consequence the entire group will commit to them and people outside the group will respect them.

Let’s have a quick overview over several strategies:

Democratic Decisions follow the majority principle, which means: options are presented and everybody decides on one, or multiple, depending on the context. The votes are counted and the option with most votes wins and will be taken. Most groups or teams use this method of decision taking without questioning. Probably because we live in a democracy, probably because we got this role modeled since we are working or even before, perhaps also because it can be conducted easily and very fast, which is even more important when the meeting is already over time.

But what happens if out of 4 options one of them wins with -let’s say- 26% of the votes? This means that 74% of the voters don’t agree that this is the best option. What does it mean for their motivation of committing to this decision and carrying it out? Not very likely.

Probably the next meeting will be used to stir the topic again, find other contributors and initiate another decision making process in order to settle on the personally preferred solution… you have seen that before? Probably.

The second decision strategy I introduce here is the Autocratic Decision. „Ohhh – bad!“, might be your first thought, and you visualize a conservative owner of a company who takes all decisions alone and includes nobody. And you might tell me that this is no team decision and it’s not an Agile context… really?

First of all, the strategy for decisions depends on the context and there are definitely situation in which one person has to take heavy weight decisions all by himself, also in an Agile setting.

Let us have a look at the Product Owner: he decides autonomously on the priorities of the Product Backlog. He is the only person empowered to do so. He must do so, he wants to do so and he is able to do so. Hopefully. Presumably he will consult with other people: stakeholder, developers, management, customers, users. But he decides. On his own.

The impact of the autocratic decision on the people and their motivation to carry it out, depends on the role and person of the decision maker: is he really authorized and supported by the organization to take this autocratic decision? Without the decision being questioned by others or even revised? Can he deliver his arguments for the decision in a clear and precise manner? This influences a lot.

As another decision strategy I see the Consultative Expert Decision. As for the autocratic decision method there is one expert who will decide. But it is expected and part of the process that the decision taker will include the arguments and viewpoints of the people involved and take into consideration when deciding.

Next method for group decision taking is the Consensus: everybody agrees. Realistically, this can be used for small group decision taking with only a couple of people. The bigger the number of people involved the longer the discussion for solution finding will be. At some point it might be impossible. The effort involved implies that alignment with consensus might only by possible for small or minor decisions: why do it at all?

On the contrary, more and more popular becomes the Consent Decision method for Agile Teams: nobody opposes strictly. This means that everybody has a veto in the decision taking process, but must explain and fortify it with cogent reasons. Subsequently the group elaborates until they find a variation so that nobody has a concrete counter-argument: everybody agrees or they can live with the proposed solution and will commit to carry it.

A consent can be achieved much faster than a consensus, but still slower than autocratic or majority based decisions.

It is important that every counter argument, every placed critique is heard, questioned, and resolved: with this existing knowledge can be shared, new insights can be generated, risks can be resolved chances can be communicated. All the time invested in the decision taking process turns out to be really valuable and productive time.

In addition to that, consent decision taking derives in 100% motivation and commitment of all people involved into the taken decision. It will not be question in the future.

You could also take a Random Decision and role a die… or throw a coin. Don’t laugh: this is indeed a valid and important strategy! If we, at all costs, can not decide if option A or B is the better one, this could mean that both are equally valid. The next step would be to take one and focus and stick to it. This saves a longer period of undecidedness, that can be used to learn about new insights and elaborate on product features.

And finally there is the small, but significant difference between these two strategies:

  • no conscious decision”: for this, either the problem is not recognized, the necessity of a decision is not seen or nobody takes ownership and responsibility for driving the decision. The essential decision is not taken: this is careless and bad management!
  • consciously no decision”: in opposite, a team can analyze a topic and purposefully take no decision: consciously, with open eyes, aware of risks and chances. This leaves all options open for the topic until the “last responsible moment” in order to decide at a later point in time, with more knowledge on the topic. I emphasize, that this is a conscious process, controlled and involving all known aspects. Can be a good strategy.

Even if I am writing here that decisions must not be called into question in the very next meeting to build clarity and consistency for everybody, I explicitly emphasize that with new insights and knowledge each and every decision can be revised or changed. Must be. Also this is again a new decision, again with a clear decision strategy.

Now, I am curious about your comments: how do you decide? Which experiences do you have?

Thank you.