Having worked with dozens of teams at all organizational levels, I've found one of the critical skills that all high-performance teams have mastered is their ability to make a good decision. These teams strike the right balance between quality of the decision and the time involved in making it.
There are all sorts of ways to make decisions. Here are eleven methods that I most commonly see in the teams I coach. Choosing the right method is based on the type of decision, the time frames involved, and the potential impact of the outcomes.
If it's really important that everyone be 100 percent behind the decision, then I suggest getting a unanimous agreement. To get there, everyone needs to be in full support of the decision without reservation or coercion.
Unlike a unanimous decision, consensus doesn't require the same level of commitment. Some team members may have reservations or concerns that are not completely resolved. These team members just need to be at the point where they are willing to agree to an option being selected for the sake of moving forward.
Sometimes one or more team member just can't get the point of agreeing to an option, but they don't want to block the vote. In this case, you can have them abstain from the decision and get an objectionless decision. I usually use this option when the team has spent a fair amount of time trying to get to a consensus, but one or more of the members does not seem to be budging.
This requires two-thirds, or 66%, of the members to agree on a decision. I suggest supermajority when you need to make sure you have solid support, but know that the team will never completely agree or that it would take too much time to develop an option that might satisfy everyone.
A simple majority requires one more vote than half of the members of the voting group. However, I find that simple majority vote isn't that useful for most business situations. For decisions with three or more options, I tend to suggest high vote (see below) instead. For a vote between two options, I find that a simple majority can and tends to divide a group. In these cases, I usually recommend using supermajority or introduce other options.
6. Minimum Vote
In some cases, you may want to set another threshold that is below one-half of the voting members to get a clear winner. If there are five options on the table, you might want to set a minimum of one-third or one-quarter. Decisions among a large number of options where one wins by a fraction of the vote can create weak decisions.
7. High vote
When you have three or more options in the situation, the decision is not critical, and time is important, it's often easiest to move to a high vote model. Whichever decision gets the most votes wins, regardless of how many options and voting members.
8. Authority with input
For the authority decision with input method, there is no voting. Everyone has the right to give input and then whoever has the most authority in a situation makes the decision for the team. The vast majority of business decisions are made in this way. While it may appear that teams are voting, they are really just giving input to the leader who is ultimately making the decision.
In this case, the team delegates the decision to someone else on, or off, the team. I suggest this method when there is someone else who is in a better position, because of information or expertise, to make a good decision.
Sometimes a team can defer a decision. And while it's not conclusive, a deferral is a valid and sometimes import strategic move. I make sure to advise teams that they should identify a "last responsible moment" to make the decision and that they shouldn't surpass it, but often waiting will give the team more information, better perspective, and time to gather thoughts.
In this case, a team consciously decides not to decide. Abdicating is not the same as the team failing to reach a decision. Abdication means that the team actively decided not to engage in the decision making process. This is rare, but it can happen as the result of political or external issues where the team doesn't want to get involved or is willing to let another team or process run its course.
Choosing the right approach is not always easy, but it is important. Teams that don't make decisions well will only end up having to redo them later when the decisions don't stick, or worse yet, having to live with the outcome after it's too late to change their minds.