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In my previous article, I outlined some of the biggest obstacles for creative teams: lack of alignment, slow decisions, lack of clarity around roles, poor communication, inadequate cultivation of new ideas, and conflict of working styles.

In this post I want to hone in on decisions, and how crucial it is to have a good working structure—that everyone understands clearly—to make decisions quickly and effectively.

While it’s easy to poke fun at a former President referring to himself as “The Decider,” having deciders and knowing who they are is important. Creative teams need to know who is responsible for making both creative and executional decisions to move projects forward. While it can be helpful to get lots of ideas and input, teams run into trouble when everyone assumes his or her suggestion needs to be considered, when that’s not always the case. Good team leaders balance inclusiveness and swift decision-making by clarifying how decisions happen.

Pay attention to when the need for an identified decision-maker arises. It’s usually as your team scales rapidly. When you started out, either on your own or with a small team, decisions were easy. Maybe the most important decisions were already made at the beginning of your effort, or with your small team, new decisions that came up could be knocked out with a quick sidebar near your desk.

But now your team has grown, and it’s also expanded into broader arenas and new endeavors. Ask yourself if you’re still paying attention to the new decisions that come forward as easily? Or are the regular deciders overwhelmed with the sheer number of decisions that need to be made now? Do you need a better solution to alleviate a bottleneck to the original decision-making structure? Are the original deciders reluctant to relinquish their existing power-hold or are conflicts arising within the organization between members who believe they should own that decision-making power?

As the leader, you need to put a consistent system in place to monitor how your teams are navigating these emerging decision-making opportunities and ensure the right people are the ones making the new decisions.

If you are a self-organizing team using Agile or some other variation, then it is crucial that the team makes sure these reviews are built into the group process.

Transparency in the type of decision-making process your team embraces will be important as well. I like to identify four different ways to make decisions:

  • Orderly Consensus
  • Cooperative Democracy
  • Informed Dictatorship
  • Benevolent Monarchy

Orderly Consensus is where we ALL are going to agree on a decision. This might be a good choice for a decision that will affect everyone, and where everyone is highly invested in having impact on the decision. I use the word “orderly” because consensus can quickly and easily turn into a riotous mess if everyone insists on rigidly fighting for their exact position – it just won’t work. But if you have a team that can move to the spirit of what’s being decided, you have a fighting chance.

Cooperative Democracy is where everyone gets to be heard through their votes, but not everyone is going to get what they want. This can be a lot less messy and much quicker than trying to achieve consensus, but similar to consensus, you have to have a team that’s willing to settle for an outcome that’s not their first choice. If your team can’t move to that position, you may see some disgruntled foot-dragging.

Informed Dictatorship is more prevalent in business than the previous two. This is where one person will make the decision but hear the opinions of other appropriate parties. This works best when the “dictator” is a good listener, and it’s a good choice when quicker decisions are critical to a project’s progression.

Benevolent Monarchy is when the decision-maker doesn’t necessarily need to hear from others, or perhaps it’s unfeasible to do so. In this situation, it’s incumbent upon the decision-maker to anticipate the impact of the decision on team members and to decide with the interest of everyone in mind. This approach runs the risk of people feeling alienated and distanced from the decision.

Often, a creative team might move between the four different decision-making processes depending on what type of decision needs to be made. You’ll know what’s right for your team. A word of advice? Make sure folks know which type of decision-making process you’ll be using to avoid anarchy and hurt feelings. Imagine how disastrous a meeting could become if one person is going to make the decision, but meeting participants are thinking that the group is going to reach consensus. Ouch!

So, what do you think?

Email me your thoughts and ideas at [email protected].