How to Handle Decision Making for Small Teams

Majority Rules? or Qualified Consensus?

In our last issue of The Coach’s Questions we talked about Decision Making.

How to help our teams develop strong options when making decisions.

Today I thought I’d talk a bit about decision making for small teams — whether that’s a management team you lead, a project team where you are a member, or even a volunteer committee you serve on.

What style of decision making do you like?

Do you prefer that the majority rule?

Do you prefer that the leader of the team listen to opinions and then make the decision on their own (often a form of majority rule)?

Do you expect consensus at all meetings?

In our “Accelerating Success” program for leaders who are starting in a new role we facilitate discussion on how decisions are going to be made by the leader and their new team.

Some very interesting research by Randall Peterson of the London Business School shows us that majority decision making, particularly in small groups of less than 10 people, can actually be detrimental because it leaves the minority unhappy and disaffected.

Peterson points out “they have nothing invested in success and often have something invested in failure.” Of course, we all know that full consensus decision making can be slow and may lead to a watered-down decision that no one loves.

At Padraig, we like Peterson’s model of “Qualified Consensus” which means finding a solution that is preferred for some and that everyone can live with, even if it isn’t the preferred solution for all.

This way everyone can remain committed to the decision and help with its success.

In working with our clients we challenge them not only to implement qualified consensus when appropriate, but also to take it a bit deeper with “a coach approach.”

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that a “coach approach” means asking insightful questions to get unexpected and previously unconsidered answers.

Specifically, we encourage our clients to be thought provokers by using insightful questions when working toward qualified consensus. If you’re not achieving consensus, ask questions like “what is it about X solution, Bob, that troubles you?

If we were to lean toward X solution, how would you modify it to make it suitable to you?” or you may ask questions about the group’s assumptions — “Carol, you mentioned option C will be too expensive. What are your assumptions about the costs? How would those costs limit our other work?”

In other words, we’re trying to drill down, get a deeper understanding of the concerns and disagreement out in the open so that everyone can respond and everyone can contemplate what is raised.

As the group shares more knowledge, assumptions, previously unspoken expectations they will often build a consensus around one direction — and will often gain enormous new understanding of each other, and each others’ roles, in the process.

Coach’s Questions

Think for a moment about the last team meeting you attended where decisions were made. Did everyone leave the room committed to the implementation? If your gut instinct says “no” what could you do next time so that you’ll be able to say yes?

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