As a follow up to my last blog post on High Performing Teams and Communication, this article will summarize how great teams make efficient and effective decisions. Governance means a lot of things – in this context we will apply it to the process or approach for making decisions within a mid-sized not-for-profit organization (45 staff, 140 volunteers organized into 25 committees/workgroups).
In March, ten senior staffers from the Investments & Wealth Institute leadership team gathered for a workshop focused on communication and decision making. The facilitator and content provider was Courtney Pullen from the Pullen Consulting Group.
There are three general approaches for decision-making; each may work well depending on the situation:
1) Authoritative – One person makes all decisions. In some situations, this is a perfectly good model. It is efficient. It is fast. All team members know exactly what is happening and when. Of course, the downside is that team members often lack buy-in, which can erode quality and performance over time, as team members exert decreasing effort into shaping better decisions made by one ruler. This approach works best in crisis situations, or when you have an all-knowing, benevolent philosopher-king, or a Captain like James T. Kirk.
2) Consensus – The team collectively makes decisions—either by popular vote or by consensus. Even in large teams, this can be a highly effective approach for many decisions. Once an organization reaches a certain level of complexity, this approach simply doesn’t work as well. It lacks efficiency. And when a lot of decisions are being made “by the team,” many decisions find the common denominator of all team members, thus watering down effectiveness. Still, it is critical to incorporate democratic principles into many decisions, and some team cultures can pull it off—just watch Jean Luc Picard run a ready-room discussion!
3) Contributive – The approach most complex organizations take is “contributive” or “Delegative.” In this model, decision-makers vary depending on the decision required. Teams assign specific roles for team members, and “the decider” is the person who is in a position to make the best decision —ideally, AFTER gathering adequate input from those who will execute the decision, those who should advise the decision, and in some cases, those who will be affected by the decision.
“Best Decision” can be defined in a variety of ways. In some situations that may mean “fastest”. In others, it might mean “most informed.” Within a project management context, the most popular contributive model uses the acronym “RACI”—which defines who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who Consults, and who is to be Informed.
Our model uses a similar acronym—DEARS—in which prior to important team decisions we define who Decides, who Executes, who should Advise a decision, who are Recipients, and who are Sponsors (or supervisors). The person responsible for a decision MUST get sufficient input from all of these roles before they arrive upon a decision. They are held accountable to the process of a decision, not just the decision itself.
It works well within our staff culture, where we have several dozen projects running simultaneously. It also works for volunteer governance within our board of directors and within our committee system. We categorize our 25+ volunteer groups into three groupings, so all volunteers know the scope of their involvement and decision-making responsibility:
1) Policy groups are responsible for policy and strategy decisions—i.e. Board of Directors, CIMA Certification Commission, CPWA Certification Commission.
2) Work groups conduct work on behalf of the organization—i.e. conference program committees, editorial review boards, exam development, awards committee, etc.
3) Advisory groups provide input and recommendations to decisions that are made by staff and/or the board—i.e. membership committee, government relations, etc.
Tecker Consultants have for many years advised associations on a Knowledge Based Strategy Governance model, which operates using a contributive framework. The Board is clear that their governance focus is at the highest level—i.e. defining value, clarifying success, providing resources, monitoring outcomes—and when they make policy or strategy decisions, they do so after a contributive process has been executed by a sub-group of volunteers or staff. This process generally involves analysis of the issue, including advantages and disadvantages of a variety of proposed options.
Governance and decision-making in high performing teams is by no means a science. What works well in one situation will surely fail in another. The key is for managers to have more than one tool in their bag to navigate the complex and always challenging responsibilities of communication and leadership in today’s organizations. Even Kirk and Picard had to team up in Star Trek Generations to defeat the enemy!