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Frameworks for making decisions as a team

Making decisions as a team is never easy. How do you balance everyone’s ideas, opinions, and emotions in a supportive, constructive, and decisive way? Hint: it’s not magic. To make effective decisions every time, the best teams use decision making frameworks. 

Decision making frameworks and models provide a structure to your team’s decision making based on the type of problem you’re trying to solve. In this post, we’ll outline why decision making frameworks are useful, share decision making models, and provide best practices for making decisions as a team.

Why does your team need a decision-making framework?

The most efficient teams make a ton of decisions quickly, but that’s easier said than done. Teams that make effective decisions and solve complex problems fast don’t have a superpower; they use decision making frameworks and tools to organize and guide their decision making process. 

There are multiple different decision making models catered to the specific kind of decision your team needs to make. There’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to solving a problem or making a decision; the kinds of decisions your team needs to make are unique and wide-ranging, which is why there are different decision making models designed for different situations. 

So, how do you match your decision making framework to the kind of decision you need to make? 

Decision-making models to guide your team

Rational decision making model

The rational decision making model is ideal for solving complex problems that require a make-or-break decision. This model involves a lot of research and discussion and requires you to work in sequence. This model only works if you have the time to sit down as a team and methodically work through the best course of action. 

Steps of the rational decision making model:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Identify the criteria the team will use to brainstorm and evaluate possible solutions.
  3. Determine each criterions level of weight and importance.
  4. Develop a list of possible alternatives.
  5. Assess those possible alternatives.
  6. Decide on the best solution.
  7. Test your solution before executing it fully.

The rational decision making model minimizes risk and uncertainty by ensuring your team methodically works through the decision in a specific sequence. 

A downside to this model is that it’s very involved and time-consuming. If you need to make fast decisions in a rapidly-evolving situation, this is not the model to go with. It’s also possible that your team won’t have all of the necessary information on hand in order to benefit from this decision making framework.

It’s important to note that while this model is excellent for solving complex problems, not all of the decisions your team needs to make require this amount of methodical focus. 

Intuitive decision-making model

The intuitive decision making model is quite a bit different than the rational decision making model. In fact, you might even say it’s the complete opposite. 

The intuitive decision making model encourages you to go with your gut and follow your instincts. While that may sound like a haphazard way to approach an important decision, your brain is trained to rapidly recognize patterns. So although an intuitive decision can be arrived at almost immediately, the decision isn’t random; your brain recognizes a pattern after reviewing your past experiences in the blink of an eye, and it presents you with a decision based on your current context. 

According to a report in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes by researchers from Boston College, George Mason University, and Rice University, “Intuition may be just as effective in decision making as an analytical approach—and sometimes more efficient and effective, depending on the decision maker’s level of expertise on the subject at hand.”

If you’ve been through a particular situation or dealt with a certain problem a dozen times, odds are you know what the ideal solution is. We use the knowledge we’ve accrued over the course of our lives to make decisions every single day. When we deal with a situation enough times, we become adept at figuring out how to most effectively manage it. 

Now, it probably goes without saying that this model won’t work for every situation. If your team is dealing with a complex problem they’ve never faced before, using the intuitive decision making model is a big mistake. Your team simply doesn’t have the experience and expertise necessary to make an effective decision quickly. 

Before using the intuitive decision making model, carefully consider if you and your team are qualified to do so. If you don’t have the kind of expertise that is sorely needed to use this model effectively, go with a different decision making framework. 

Vroom-Yetton decision-making model

The Vroom-Yetton model, developed by organizational psychologists Victor Vroom and Phillip Yetton, posits that there’s no one-size-fits-all process for effective decision making; instead, the best process depends entirely on your current situation. 

This model begins with seven yes-or-no questions. For example, “Do you have enough information to make the decision on your own,” or, “Is conflict amongst the team over the decision likely?” 

Your answers to the seven questions then help you to choose between five different decision making processes, which range from Autocratic (making the decision without consulting your team) to Collaborative (working with your team to achieve consensus.) Essentially, how much input do you need from your team in order to make an effective decision that everyone is comfortable with? 

The Vroom-Yetton model is extremely flexible, easy to understand, can be utilized in unfamiliar situations, and can be used by employees at all levels of management. The model’s methodical process forces you to think through the details as well as the potential ramifications of your decisions. 

The downside is this model isn’t excellent for large teams and organizations, as there are simply too many people to consider. The questions also lack precision, so it may be tough to apply them to every situation. 

Best practices for making decisions as a team

Give your team the knowledge and tools they need.

It’s well worth the time and investment to educate and train your team on effective decision making. Effective decision making can improve each and every one of your business processes, and it reduces conflict in the workplace. 

Take time to help your team learn about the decision making process and how to make effective decisions as a team and as individuals. Pass on information about how to best make team decisions and how to choose the most effective decision making model. Make this training a team building exercise to strengthen your team’s rapport, communication, and working dynamic. 

Build a code of guiding principles and best practices.

Develop a code of guiding principles and best practices specific to your team. 

What processes and principles should your team follow? Do they know how and when to choose which type of decision making model to use? Do they know when they can make a decision on their own versus when they should seek consensus from the whole team?

Putting clear principles and best practices in place will ensure everyone is on the same page, and it makes it easy to get new hires up to speed. Simple decisions can be made faster so that not everything needs to be run by the manager. 

While surrendering complete control can be a challenge for some leaders, micromanagement will lead to a hostile work environment. Qualified adults don’t need someone breathing down their necks 24/7. 

Managers who trust their team to make decisions keep things running efficiently; plus, placing trust in your team members allows them to feel confident about their abilities and personally invested in the business. 

Curious to learn more? Read our guide on how to spot the signs of micromanagement.

Build trust to mitigate conflict.

Trust is what makes a team a team. Without it, all you have is a group of individuals wary of each other’s true intentions. This suspicion leads them to withhold information and be resentful of each other’s success. Team members become unaccountable, uncooperative, and, most of all, unhappy—who wants to work with people you can’t trust?

Decisions can’t be made efficiently or effectively without trust. Regardless of how talented each member of your team is, if employees don’t trust each other, nothing is going to get done. A team member’s focus isn’t going to be on advancing the interests of the team; it’s going to be on protecting themselves, so they’ll be much less likely to think creatively or voice concerns. And if everyone’s blood is always up, it’s going to result in frequent conflicts. 

Of course, when teams do trust each other, nothing can hold them back. Employees feel safe to express their ideas in a constructive environment. If a team member doesn’t completely agree with your idea, you can trust that they’re not just trying to take you down a peg to build themselves up; they’re merely trying to arrive at the best decision possible, and vice versa. 

Trust takes a lot of time and effort to build and maintain, but it is essential to an effective and efficient decision making process. 

Read our guide on building trust in the workplace

Assess your results and review your processes.

Once you have decision making frameworks in place, the job’s all done, right? Wrong. Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to work for everyone in perpetuity. 

Assess the effectiveness of your decision making processes and continue to make adjustments based on your results and the feedback you receive from your team. 

Design tests to track the results of your decisions. Did one decision making model lead to a more satisfying decision for your team, management, and customers? Is this consistent? Plan out a schedule to review your decisions on a regular basis. If you find one model works better than another or that one model could be better optimized with a few tweaks, make the necessary changes. 

Gathering feedback is essential to all aspects of your organization. How does your team enjoy working with the decision making frameworks you’re using? Do they feel they lead to effective decisions, or are they unnecessarily complicated? Do they mitigate conflict, or do they cause conflicts? Gather feedback from your team to keep your decision making optimized. 

Read our guide to giving constructive feedback along with the pros & cons of 360 degree feedback.

How decision making frameworks have changed over time

Although the methods we use to evaluate our choices and arrive at decisions can seem set in stone, they haven’t always been around. In fact, the frameworks we use for decision-making have changed frequently, often in response to the technology we use. Understanding this is important for seeing the limitations in our current decision-making processes. 

Let’s review how our decision-making frameworks have evolved over the past few decades.

From the rational to the systemic

The 1950s can generally be thought of as the beginning of concrete decision-making frameworks since this is when organizations began using statistical tools for their decision models. In particular, data quality was considered anew in order to distinguish measurements based on optimal solutions from those based on real-world solutions. This led to the idea of a more rational decision-making process that reflects human behavior and emotions over the ideal.

Starting in the 60s, however, this rational process began to be refined even further into systemic methods for problem-solving and decision-making. For example, one such process broke down the act of decision-making into a sequence of steps, each based on clearly defined elements:

  1. Classify and define the problem
  2. Determine how to respond
  3. Distinguish which responses are acceptable given the context
  4. Determine the actions to carry out
  5. Test the effectiveness of the decision

Eventually, this led to the proliferation of more visual methods of decision-making, such as flow diagrams and decision trees. One the more significant visual decision-making methods created at this time was the SWOT analysis model. Based on a strategic analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, the SWOT model is still in wide use today.

Computer models and the information age

With the increasing availability of computer processing technology in the 70s and beyond, it became possible to further refine and adapt decision-making models. As such, more organizations began seeing themselves less as a set of isolated elements and more as a complex system of interrelated elements. Additional factors, such as employee skills, environmental context, and computational resources were used to more closely calculate the potential consequences of different choices in the presence of uncertainty. As a result, mathematical models of the decision-making process became more popular.

As the information age began in earnest in the 80s, computational power became integral to gaining a competitive edge. In particular, computers and technology were put to greater use in order to understand the way tasks are performed under uncertainty. One such model that found widespread use was the analytical hierarchy process, which allowed organizations to rank alternative choices in terms of how well they fulfilled a set of predefined conditions.

Decision support systems also grew in popularity. These gave organizations a framework for classifying different sets of data, such as communications-driven, document-driven, and knowledge-driven. They were soon designed to take into account different decision-making models, as well as information access, so that they could support decision-makers throughout different levels of an organization.

Organizational knowledge and information management

Through the 90s and 2000s, as computers increasingly became a normal and central aspect of operations, decision-making processes began to consolidate under a similar rubric. This identified three factors that could influence the decision-making process:

  • Environment (uncertainty and complexity)
  • Organizational (the structure and characteristics of the organization, such as personnel, equipment, and strategies)
  • Other specifics (impetus, urgency, and risk)

The concept of the “knowing organization” also became popularized. This stated that any organizations that can use information to gain a better understanding of their activities will be at a competitive advantage. The model used for determining this consisted of three concentric layers of information: interpretation (sensemaking), conversion (knowledge creation), and processing (decision-making). 

Moving into the 2000s, organizational management became a greater concern as the amount of data continued to increase. Despite innovations such as data mining and data warehousing, organizations realized they lacked an efficient and systemic way to manage and organize their data. Experimentation with different management systems began to take place, with “transparency” becoming a particularly valued characteristic for organizations seeking to make better decisions.

As part of this, it became popular for decision-making models to adopt a “pre-mortem” approach in addition to or instead of a “post-mortem.” This meant identifying, in advance, any risks and problems that may come up during a project. This would help strengthen the entire decision-making process from the outset.

The rise of Big Data

In the past decade or so, the relationship between information technology and decision-making frameworks has only grown stronger. Data-driven decision-making, or decisions made through the use of large-scale data analytics and processing, has continually been shown to correlate strongly with company performance, performance, and market value.

Consequently, subsequent developments in the decision-making space have focused largely on the quality and analysis of data. A particularly important distinction has been made between internal and external evidence. While both are valid, decision-making based on internal evidence and observations is typically easier to implement and effective, making it one of the pillars of the widely used six sigma model.

Current trends continue to focus largely on the changes and improvements being made to data analytics, although there is increasing work being done on the psychological mechanisms that lead us to make certain decisions or value certain data over others. Meanwhile, others are focused on what improvements can be made when data-driven decision models are combined with critical and creative thinking. As even newer technologies, most notably AI, begin to influence our decision-making processes, the way we determine one choice from another will likely continue to evolve.

Discuss key decisions with a people management tool.

With PI Perform, you can put your teams into action and make progress in your work rather than just tracking it. Take the time to test out PI with your team, and see if it doesn’t change how you get things done.

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David is a freelance writer and PI contributor. When he’s not writing, he’s probably thinking about food. He believes pretzels are superior to potato chips and you can’t convince him otherwise.

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