Team Decision Making Determines Our Destiny

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High performing teams make mostly good, often great, decisions most of the time.  

And it matters. Albert Camus reminds us: “Life is the sum of all our choices.” From choices come consequences. Take one path and go one place, take a different path, go somewhere else.  

Let’s say you’re deciding on new product features. Pick the right ones and the product is a hit. Pick the wrong ones and it languishes or flops. The difference can represent millions of dollars and possibly the survival of your business.  

What about hiring? Pick the right person and things take off, energy is increased, results flow. The wrong person gets little done, rubs colleagues the wrong way and sucks energy from the team. That’s a big, expensive difference.  

Granted, some choices are not so life changing. But each one can have an imperceptible impact on the business, and many small choices stacked upon each other have a big impact over time.

Like selecting how to manage a new software implementation. Should we use project management tools, an excel sheet, the back of an envelope or nothing? Should we have frequent or infrequent project review meetings? Should we trust someone to move things along effectively without requiring regular updates? Should we provide live training or self-paced e-learning? And on it goes. 

In a business, many decisions are made by teams or heavily influenced by the input of teams. In theory a team will make better decisions because of the diversity of knowledge and experience within the team. Many minds, many points of view, many years of experience … sounds like a super brain, and it is.   

But it doesn’t always work that way. Why?

Egos, insecurities and bad communications get in the way. Some people dominate, others hold back. Some get offended easily, others tiptoe around the issue. Some are committed to the outcome, others don’t care. It’s a messy business. 

So what to do? The answer is not simple. But these 3 things will help tremendously:  

Leadership. Process & Trust.

Leadership: Someone skilled must lead the meeting. They must be respected by the group and seen as someone who is impartial, inclusive and committed to reaching the best decision. They must keep the conversation focused, with a clear objective and yet allow for some levity, some lightness so that team members are relaxed, open and able to think clearly. 

Process: Random, free-for-all discussions don’t work. Take a logical approach and clarify the decision to be taken. Describe the stakes, the impact. Establish a time frame for decision-making and outline the process. 

Get precise. Agree on what a good decision looks like. How do we know when we have a good outcome? And then do some research, get the facts. Lay them out for all to see. 

And of course, hear from everyone. Some people are creative and talkative, some are quiet and detailed. Some focus on the downside; others think things will always work out. 

Trust: Fear, suspicion and resentment undermine good group decision making. People must be open and trusting of each other, willing to speak up, willing to be “wrong,” willing to truly listen and consider multiple points of view. 

That’s trust, a product of culture, which takes time and attention to establish. 

However, a tone-setting opening statement can help. And the leader can model trusting behavior by showing vulnerability and by fully receiving opposing points of view. And, importantly, the leader can thwart attempts by some to dominate the conversation. 

So there you have it. Decisions decide our destiny. Good decisions by teams are available to all. But it takes commitment and good leadership, a process and trust.    

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