Leadership Notes #64 – Decision Making

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

We as leaders and individuals are faced with making decisions all the time. The groups we lead are also faces with making decisions. So it’s an important skill that all of us need to be able to handle. The decisions may be trivial (what we will do for an upcoming social even) or more substantial (what we will do for our summer superactivity).

Decision Making is used when we have determined there is a “problem” and defined that problem. (the problem can be “what will we do?”). Hence, we have to decide what will be the resolution or solution to that problem.

There are 6 basic ways of Decision Making: Habit, Demands of others, Escapism, Default, Conscious.

• Habit it doing what we’ve always done. We have our meetings at a set location. That is habit. We can have standard events that we always do. That is also habit.

Some habits are fine. Having a set location for meetings is probably a good habit. But having set habits in other areas isn’t always good. You get in a rut, and things get stale. Habits may be fine for trivial decisions.

• The Demands of Others is when others make you do something. This can include things like fees set by outside groups, or being allowed only to do certain things by outside groups.

This can be nice for some, as the burden of decision is take up by an outside group, but this can make you or the group seem out of control.

• Escapism is when a decision is NOT made, and it forces someone else to make the decision. For instance, if the crew leaders don’t make a decision, it makes force the advisor to make a decision, or force the crew members themselves.

This is sometimes done to avoid conflict, but it has the negative affect that the leader or leaders are not being effective. This can result in the leader not be selected again as a leader.

• Spur of the moment is the impulse decision. One made very quickly without too much consideration.

This can save time and energy, especially if it’s for unimportant decisions. But the problem is when it’s used as a way to make last-minute decisions for important things. Too often everything isn’t considered, and the risk is the wrong decision is made.

• Default is going along with the ‘standard answer’. This involves little or no work or thought, but the problem is that going with the default, opportunities are missed.

• Conscious decision making is what we want to do for many of the matters we deal with. Here, groups are taking the time to make the right decision. Because it can be time consuming, its often used for when it should be used: for making the big decisions, such as election of leaders or decisions that encompass money or a lot of time.

Now, we’ve touched on ways of Decision Making, but what are some of the mechanics of making those decisions? There are actually several. Often times people speak of ‘putting something to a vote’, but here are actually several methods that can be used.

• Consensus
• Majority Vote
• “Super Majority” Vote
• Plurality Vote
• Range Voting

Consensus is about having everyone in agreement with the decision. Sometimes this can be hard to achieve. For some decisions, you can get everyone in agreement. In parliamentary procedure, this is known as ‘unanimous consent’ or ‘general consent’. Some systems of consensus go with allows for some small amount of decent. This can be allowed for either a high majority (say 90%) or allowing for 1-2 disagreements. A problem with consensus is that sometimes dissenting members can be ‘browbeat’ in agreeing with the group to get agreement.

Majority vote is a basic method of decision making in most groups. Majority is simply ‘more than half’ of those agree with the decision. This majority could be as few as 51%, and sometimes one vote is enough to tip the side. It’s for this reason that some prefer other methods, but forgotten is that before a vote is take, there is supposed to be debate on the topic, which is when people can bring up points and try to sway people one way or another.

“Super majority” voting is when a requirement is made for a higher then just more than half when voting. Within parliamentary procedure, a 2/3rd majority is required for voting on matters that affect the rights of members. An organization could set such a higher threshold on decision, but must be careful as they might not be able to achieve this, and then no decision might be made.

Plurality voting can be used when there are several choices, but only one may be picked. In normal practice, the winner would need to get a majority of votes, but sometimes a group may allow for plurality, in which the choice with the most votes (which might not be a majority) wins.

Range voting is used mainly to narrow down the choices for a group, not always to make a final decision. In more uses, the group may brainstorm on a wide-range of choices. Once all the choices are made, each member is allowed a small number of votes (say 3-4), and they then vote or pick their choices from the whole list. Those items that get the most votes are then kept for further discussion and a final decision.

Another technique I should mention, which isn’t so much a decision-making method, but one that can help a group along in making the decision, is the use of committees. Too often, the large group doesn’t have the time or focus to hash out an idea or come up with possible choices for a decision. So most organizations will then assign this task to a committee within the organization. This may be one of the permanent committee within the group (known as standing committees) or form a short-term committee just to deal with it (known as a special or ad hoc committee). This committee ideally should be formed of people with an interest in, and knowledge of, the matter being looked at. They then go off separate from the main group to confer and look at the issue, usually with a deadline set. After they have done so, they will often time come back to the main group, usually with a recommendation, perhaps with some alternates. I had covered this use of committees in a previous Note.

Hopefully this Note on Decision Making will help your crew in how they can better make decisions affecting them.