How can your company make better, faster decisions?

The key difference between a company that stays on the cutting edge and one that fades away, always boils down to one thing: Decisions. Every department or business unit has its own priorities and expertise, and most organizations make decisions with a consensus building process. While it seems natural to try to get everyone "on board", it turns out there is a better way.

Amy Kates, the managing partner of Kates Kesler Organization Consulting and coauthor of Bridging Organization Design and Performance, says the real issue with reaching agreement across departments is often baked into the company itself.

She explains that, by design, teams have tension baked into them, because every single department is built to focus on totally different priorities and tasks. Organizations unintentionally end up with "silos" because of this. It's extremely important to bridge these departments, to inspire a more communal focus.

She broke it down further: "Companies that make better and faster decisions than their competition, win." So what can be done? To speed up good decisions, the best thing you can do is stop trying to get everyone to unanimously agree on something, and instead "focus on structured collaboration." Start-ups and younger companies are especially prone to falling into the agreement trap. In an attempt to be democratic they end up wasting time, effort, and often capital, so everyone can feel comfortable with their decision, instead of making a strong (if not all that popular) choice.

Amy warns that while consensus seems collaborative on the surface, it often elicits debates and brainstorming sessions instead of a targeted solution. Department heads enter into decision-making with one thing in mind: voice your opinion and advocate for the smartest decision. However, this creates an environment where everyone is vying for the decision that best suits their own needs. The difference is subtle, but debilitating: "Consensus means we all have to agree. And that means that everyone in the group has a veto," Amy explains "So in order to reach agreement, what happens is the group tends to sub-optimize the solution." By having multiple people cut down solutions for not being the best fit to their department, very good ideas can often end up on the cutting room floor.

This means everyone will put in their two cents on how choices will effect their own work. Providing context is good, but aiming to find common ground is where things can get tricky. "Common ground might not be the best outcome for the organization," Amy says. "We may not have a good decision, and we may not have a fast decision. What we do have is 'everybody feels good.'" So, what can we do to start coming to decisions more quickly without becoming tangled in the search for agreement?

1. Know your goals going in

Amy's strongest recommendation is to realign your goals. Is your organization trying to come to a concrete and final decision? Then reaching interdepartmental agreement should not be your top priority. When department heads come together for a meeting they are coming armed with their own issues and trepidations. This should be acknowledged, but not dwelled on. First and foremost you should outline the nature of your meeting: if it's the make a decision, then release the pressure of consensus. Embrace different perspectives but understand that there is no 'silver bullet' solution to any problem.

2. Start to let go

In the end, it's all about trust. "What we counsel our clients to do is to delegate as much as possible, right? To trust in one another, let go, and say 'Look, you make the decision unless there's these issues that involve me, otherwise I trust you to make a good decision.'" This may be a particularly painful part for any leaders or business-owners, but by trusting your employees you are effectively speeding up the process.

3. Give the 'golden vote'

One person, perhaps the head of the department most likely to execute the decision, has to make the choice and accept responsibility. As Amy explains it: "...one role has what we call the 'golden vote.' It means that you're accountable for the quality of the decision. For bringing the right voices, the right data, and making sure there's a candid conversation. And at the end of the day, if we can't find a decision we align on, you make a well informed call and we move to execution." Nothing is perfect, so trust that you've weighed your options and execute your choice confidently.

So who has the 'Golden Vote' in your next big decision?

Published on: Oct 26, 2017
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