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Making Decisions as a Self Directed Work Team

One of the vital differences in SDWTs is that silence during decision making is treated as disagreement.  This simple difference changes everything in terms of team dynamics.  People in a team environment have to show their position on any decision made, whether in agreement, needing time for more discussion or blocking the decision.  Right away we see the accountability change as people must make their positions transparent in front of others.  No longer can a minority of three or four people decide on the actions for all, while others remain silent.  Some key principles around team decision making are important to consider:

  • Most teams start out not knowing how to make decisions, let alone decisions as a team of people.
  • The team needs to agree on a process for its decision making which gets articulated and agreed to in the team’s Decision-Making Protocol.
  • Teams can utilize all forms of decision making (e.g. autocratic, minority rule, majority rule, straw polls, consensus), they just must decide by consensus the form of decision making they will use
  • During consensus, team’s benefit from having a “fallback” position agreed to before discussion begins in case the team is unable to reach consensus.
  • Teams avoid voting as voting creates two teams: winners and losers.
  • Teams consider “proposals” put forth by members that are then discussed and modified as needed
  • The team’s meeting agenda makes the desired outcomes for agenda items clear, including the decisions that need to be made.
  • All team decisions are recorded in the scribe notes to reduce the amount of revisiting
  • Teams have to learn how to move past “position taking” and the “miserable middle” to a place of building collaboration.
  • An absent team member is provided with time to review a decision and provide feedback, especially if the team member disagrees with the decision.
  • Team decision-making accountability grows as the team maturity improves. Little decisions are made from the very beginning

All teams struggle to move from a set of opposing perspectives among various team members to a cohesive, consensus approach agreed to by all.  Often when team discussion hits the miserable middle of the process where the differences are more pronounced than the similarities, it’s tempting to go along with anything that seems reasonable, or simply say nothing and let others decide (that’s usually where we go in organizations and why a lot of organizations make poor decisions).  On a team, you have to move through the miserable middle and try to bring the opposing viewpoints together into a collaborative proposal that the whole team “can live with.”  That’s not easy, but it is well worthwhile for those decisions that really matter and need the long-term support of the whole team.


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