One of the great myths of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is that collaboration stems from consensus. 

The common approach to collaboration suggests that engagement is not possible unless people have an opportunity to participate in the decision making.  My experience as a Certified Succession Planner® leads me to believe something somewhat different. The behavioral assessments we use in helping select the right people for groups such as operational teams, family councils, and various types of boards suggest a great many people want to be involved in the decision making process without necessarily having the responsibility for actually making the decision.

Some business and family leaders do not fully grasp this concept.  As a result, they will go into private or group meetings knowing what the outcome is going to be, but act as if the outcome were still in doubt and will be influenced by the will and persuasiveness of the group.  Group members have a negative view of such leadership behavior, and they generally leave feeling manipulated rather than motivated.

So, what approach works better when the decision is not in doubt?  Here’s a model that has worked well for our clients:

  1. Acknowledge that the decision is already made, is non-negotiable, and will not be changed as a result of any additional input from the group.  The outcome is determined.

  2. Indicate that the group does have an opportunity to influence how the decision or strategy will be implemented, if, in fact, that is true.  Assuming that there is sufficient time, form a team to develop an implementation plan for executing the decision.

  3. Assuming that competent people have been placed on the team, when they come back with a plan that achieves the desired outcome, resist the temptation to improve on their plan.  Such improvements generally do not add a material level of improvement.

If the decision is in doubt, then by all means take advantage of working with a diverse team to reach a decision.  Here are some questions to ask the group to consider in making the decision:  

  • What will happen if we take an action?

  • What will happen if we do not take an action?

  • What will not happen if we take an action?

  • What will not happen if we do not take an action? 

So, if you are confused and puzzled over how and when to use teams to make decisions . . . Good!  We don’t really begin to learn until we realize that we are confused.

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