Need a Team Decision-Making Framework? Try Discover, Discuss, Decide

It’s time to make a decision and you know you don’t have all the information you need. The decision impacts a broad range of people, and you are going to need some buy-in from others to execute on any of the options you choose.

This situation calls for a meeting … and not just any old meeting. This meeting is going to need to be guided well or it could go all over the place and you could end up making an uninformed unilateral decision just to avoid the chaos. So, how do we tackle a meeting like this?

Let’s start by defining what kind of decision making process you need. Then, a framework for how to guide your meeting!

Who needs to be involved in the decision?

How decisions get made and who needs to be involved is one of the questions every leader wrestles with. Sometimes leaders need to just make the decision. Other times a leader’s role is discerning who to involve and how to get the decision made. 

The continuum of options in the image to the left offers criteria for deciding who to involve in decisions. Think of a project or a decision that needs to be made. For example, if a leader notices a program is not meeting goals as expected, she may be tempted to make a unilateral decision. But, is she the best person to do so? Step back before making a decision and assess where this decision falls on the “Choose Your Decision Making Process” (figure 1). Who really has the information and insight to influence this decision? If others on the team are executing the program, then they are likely closer to that information a leader needs. If there is another person directing the program, he may be able to offer nuances to the decision based on personnel, participants or industry best practices. All that information and insight the leader doesn’t have makes the decision more complex.

When a robust decision for more complex situations is called for, that’s a decision that lands in the yellow zone. When facilitated well, a “yellow zone” decision addresses potential problems before they happen and creates buy-in for those who must execute on it. 

How will you facilitate the meeting?

Once you have figured out that your decision lands in the “yellow zone” (figure 1) you have to bring your group together to share information, offer their perspectives and collectively move toward a decision. At the end of the meeting, the decision may move up the continuum to the leader deciding, or more easily be delegated down the continuum. Remember, don’t just wing it. It’s a good idea to be prepared as I shared previous blogs: Not the Same Old Boring Meeting and Master Your Meeting Facilitation. And, to design and facilitate your decision making meeting, consider this three part framework … Discover, Discuss, Decide (figure 2):

Figure 2

Discover:

  • Identify constraints for decision making (e.g. time frame, budget, resource limits)
  • Clarify how the decision will be made and who will make it
  • Define the problem or the decision to be made as you know it today.
  • Invite input, reflections, thoughts or insights on the situation.
  • Ask expansive questions that broaden out everyone’s understanding of the situation:
    • What do we need to know that we don’t today?
    • What is your perspective on what the real problem (or situation) is?
    • What is the evidence that we can see that we need to make this decision now?
    • What impact does this decision have on you?
    • What concerns you most about this situation (or problem, or decision)?
  • Summarize part one of this framework by identifying some of the criteria that is important to the group for a decision they can live with and support.

Don’t be afraid to use a whiteboard, flip charts or assign a team member to document what you hear. Even if it’s not for today’s meeting, it might become useful information later. The potential pitfall at this stage is diving into solutions too quickly so that the problem is not adequately understood. This can often leave teams revisiting the same decision over and over. 

Discuss:

After you have added in some perspective, gained insights from the team, identified criteria about what is important to the group, it’s time to dive into discussing options. Some leaders start with a couple of options to consider while inviting additional suggestions. Other leaders start with a blank slate and open it up with more of a brainstorming style emphasizing that no idea is a bad idea, let’s just get them all out there and evaluate them later. Where you fall on that continuum as you launch the discussion will depend on your style, the nature of the decision and the readiness of the group. Some questions you might ask to get the brainstorming started and/or keep it going:

  • What would you like to consider?
  • What other angles can you think of?
  • What potential solutions do you see?

As you wrap up the brainstorming, it’s helpful to zero in on the decision that makes the most sense or has the best chance for success. You can ask the group a few questions to help bottomline the top option(s):

  • What outcomes are important to you and what options can achieve that?
  • What seems to be the main obstacle?
  • What are gaps in our capabilities that might make it hard for us to succeed?

Or, you can use a voting technique if you are short on time and the consensus is already close.  I have consistently used a sticky dot, or check mark technique that allows each person in the room to pick their top options. You can randomly pick a number, i.e. 3-5. Or take the total number of options, divide by 3 and assign that number of votes. You can have everyone pick different options, or they can use all their votes on one option if you want to get a sense of individual priority. What is most in this process is for the group to see the convergence or divergence in a tangible way.

Decide: 

This phase in the process is about making a decision. However, at the end of the discussion, you could have different scenarios and you want to be prepared for each of them:

Scenario 1: Consensus is close.

The group consensus is pretty clear through discussion or some tangible voting method and you can move into action planning and not only decide what you will do, but start deciding what the next steps will be and who will do what.

Scenario 2: The group is split.

The group is split and there isn’t a clear path for the group to move forward together. That’s when you as a leader will have to move to a different stage in the decision making process to “I decide with input” (figure 1) Call for a break. Take the input you have received. Come back to the team with the decision you made and reasoning behind the decision that validates and acknowledges their input.

Scenario 3: The solution is simpler than it seemed.

The group discussion simplified what everyone thought was a big decision to a simple solution within the scope of responsibility for only one or two team members. That’s when as a leader you have the opportunity to move to the “You decide with my input” (figure 1) stage of the decision making process. The discussion is the input, and you can delegate the decision to the team member that is impacted the most and has the most responsibility to execute on that decision. It reinforces their authority and prevents reverse delegation.

Scenario 4: The decision is still unclear.

The group discussion has raised awareness of the situation, but also the realization that as a team, we don’t have the information that is needed to make a robust decision. So, the decision may actually be to find out what additional information is needed or offer time for the team to reflect on the discussion and review the notes that were taken. Then, set a date to reconvene the team and continue the process.

Ready to give it a try?

Our tendency as leaders is to quickly make decisions. It’s easy to skip over the input needed to make a more robust decision that has collective buy-in to promote it’s success. Our people often come to us looking for a quick solution. By asking questions and facilitating a process to Discover, Discuss and Decide (figure 2) you are equipping your team to not look for a quick fix from you, but to engage a process that helps them think through their own decisions wherever they may fall on the continuum. 

So get started . . . 

  1. Select a decision you need to make that could benefit from group discussion or even a group decision.
  2. Click on the worksheet right here to outline your framework and design your questions:
  3. Practice using this framework to facilitate the meeting:
    1. Let your team know you are trying something new
    2. Explain what you are trying to accomplish and invite their feedback to help you evaluate if it works for the team or not
  4. Reflect on the meeting and what went well and what didn’t. Adjust your worksheet for the next meeting based on what you learned.

And, comment below with questions, insights or experiences you have in facilitating group decision making. Schedule a free consultation with me to fill out your worksheet together. As always, email me anytime. I’d love to hear from you.

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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