Where shared decision-making goes wrong
Those who are regular readers of my newsletter, will know that I am a strong supporter of shared decision-making in workplaces – where managers allow and encourage team members to make decisions about their work.
Such shared decision-making tends to encourage greater engagement and cooperation with change and more creative solutions to workplace challenges.
But having said that, there are also potential problems with this approach. Following are some of the common challenges, as well as some ideas on possible solutions:
- The desire by senior management for more inclusive decision-making is not genuine: There is a difference between going through a consultation process and giving people the actual authority to make decisions that affect their work. Participation, without power, is a frustrating process for those involved.
Here team members need to be having an honest discussion with senior management about the need to match participation with authority to make certain decisions. If the buy-in of senior management is not there, managers can minimise frustrations if they make it clear that it is more a process of consultation they are going through. Managers can also make it obvious when they are running with ideas generated by team members.
People with strong opinions are absent from the meeting: If people who have strong opinions about the change are absent from such meetings, it is easy for them to criticise any decisions that are made. Work needs to be put into engaging these team members to participate or respect any decisions that are made.
- Strong personalities dominate the agenda: Collaborative decision-making is certainly attractive to high-power individuals. But their power needs to be managed well so all team members have an opportunity to be heard. If not, other less-direct team members will feel frustrated and good ideas may well go unheard.
Consider agreeing on the ground rules for the meeting beforehand and having a strong chair to ensure people stay on track. Let your team know you genuinely value their contribution and that diverse opinions and ideas make for a stronger team and more creative solutions. Consider also making it easier for people to contribute – either through small group work or anonymous surveys.
- There are problems with the solutions generated: In an ideal world, you aim for solutions that are respectful of everyone’s perspective. But I am sure you have heard the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. To end up with a viable solution, you may have to lean towards one perspective in particular, such as an important policy generated by your workplace or central office.
Here your team needs to be clear about those areas in which flexibility can be shown (such as, the timing and how a workplace change is implemented) and those areas in which they cannot (the actual change itself or a particular policy).
Lack of clarity on how decisions will be made: Ideally, you are aiming for decisions by consensus, though this may not always be possible. In such situations, the ground rules might also include whether more time is called for to allow other solutions to be generated, whether a majority carries the vote, or that these matters will be escalated to and resolved by senior management.
Can be consuming of time: You can minimise the cost to team members’ time by having only relevant parties attend meetings. This will also ease the frustration for those who have to listen in to discussions about matters that are totally irrelevant to their work.
A strong chair, firm agenda with times allocated for agenda items, will also minimise waffling and discussion about side issues. A trial of a solution can also be a good way to move things forward.
Yes, shared decision-making does have its challenges. And it can be quite frustrating for speedy decision-makers and those managers who feel they need to stay in control. However, the rewards are there – creative solutions, a far more engaged team, and greater cooperation with change.