Article by Jim Jensen
This is the third in a series of decision-making posts. I teach a model in our sessions that describes five levels of decision-making. The shared language that comes out of a shared understanding of the model leads to better decisions. Understanding the decision-making level clarifies the role of team members. Is their role simply to listen to understand the decision, to share and articulate their opinions and perspectives, or is it to engage in passionate debate?
Another way the model can be helpful is that it can help leaders think about which level is best, given the circumstances and not just what is most comfortable, given their style.
First, let’s look at the model:
Levels of Decision Making
(On decisions that affect the group)
1. Leader decides and communicates decision to the group
(Leader does not require group member input)
2. Leader decides and communicates decision to the group
(Leader does require group member input)
3. We decide
(Consensus – with leader included)
4. Group decides and communicates decision to the leader
(Group members require leader input – Group member consensus)
5. Group decides and communicates their decision to leader
(Group members do not require input from leader)
Problems arise when leaders are not clear with their group, or group members are not clear with their leader about which level they are assuming.
To clarify, leaders and team members make countless decisions every day that don’t require attention to this model. These Levels are just for those decisions that affect the team. All five of these levels can be most appropriate given the circumstances. None are preferred over another.
A Closer Look
Level 1 Decision - Leader decides (does not require group member input)
Level 1 decisions are very common and tend to be the MO of many leaders. When I first began working with leadership teams, I wrongly assumed that Level 1 decisions went against the grain of good teaming. I’ve come to change my thinking. I’ve seen many leaders over the years who were very comfortable with Level 1 decisions, they made very good decisions, and they got buy-in from the team. This can be especially true if the team leader has more experience in the industry than their people, and has the respect of their team.
Level 2 Decision - Leader decides (does require group member input)
A Level 2 decision means that the leader still makes the decision, but that he or she requires input from the group. If you read much of Patrick Lencioni’s work, it seems clear that this is his preferred method for making decisions on a team. According to Lencioni, “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.”
For any of these levels, but perhaps mostly for Level 2 decisions, it’s important to close the communication loop by letting your team know what you’ve decided. Forgetting to close the communication loop and explaining your thinking to the team can breed mistrust. This is especially true if you gather input from people individually, outside the team meetings, and then make a Level 2 decision that goes against most of the input you got from your team. If you were particularly swayed by an outlying opinion, helping your team understand why you went the way you did can help people get on board with your thinking. Without you closing the communication loop, in a team where trust is low, you might hear people complain at the water cooler, “Why did she ask for our opinion if she already knew what she was going to do!”
Level 3 Decision - We decide (Consensus – with leader included)
Effective Level 3 decisions require higher level teaming skills. They require trust in the leader and a healthy and cohesive team environment. In terms of team dynamics, Level 3 decisions present wonderful opportunities for robust discussion and debate, which can further the team’s development. Here’s how Dynamic Teams defines consensus: When a group comes to a “Level 3” decision or reaches consensus, it means that everyone in the group can fully support that decision. It does not mean everyone on the team initially thought it was the best decision, but because of the process they went through, because everyone had a chance to be heard, because all views and concerns were considered, they all agree they can fully support it. How can that happen? In a healthy leadership-team environment, team members understand the importance of alignment and getting everyone behind a decision, plan, proposal, etc. Not in a facade, lip-service kind of way, but in a sincere desire to provide healthy, collective leadership to their organization.
When I’m presenting this decision-making model I’ll ask the group, “What is the value of consensus?” Nine out of ten times everyone will say, almost in unison, “Buy in.” Then I’ll ask about the downside. Most everyone knows that consensus cannot always be achieved. Or, that there may not be enough time to get there. If the entire team cannot fully buy in to a decision after going through a healthy robust discussion, then the leader can make a Level 2 decision. Because of all the information that came out of the discussion, it is likely to be very well informed.
Level 4 Decision - Group decides (Group members require leader input – Group member consensus)
With a Level 4 decision the leader might decide it’s important for the team to get consensus if they can. The leader will share their input, or perhaps share some parameters or budget constraints, then give them the time and space to get consensus, and then communicate that decision back to him or her.
Level 5 Decision - Group decides (Group members do not require input from leader)
With a Level 5 decision you might hear a leader say something like, “I think you folks are the ones who need to pull this off, so I’d like you to get consensus. Let me know what you decide.”
And finally, team decision-making is one of the best arenas for you and your team to practice healthy leadership and teaming behaviors. If your people are passionate about their work, there will be differences of opinions. It’s precisely this passion and diversity of thinking that can lead to creative solutions that no one person might have come up with on their own. These opportunities for healthy conflict and spirited debate can strengthen and deepen your people’s trust and working relationships, with you as the leader, and with each other.
I hope you found this helpful.
I first saw this model years ago when working with internal OD consultants at General Motors. Since then, I’ve seen many similar versions but this one resonates with me the most. Click this link if you’d like to download a copy of our Levels of Decision-Making model
To determine the most effective decision-making level, consider the factors in this download and seek maximum appropriate involvement:
Click this link to download a copy of Levels of Decision Making – How to Decide – Things to Consider
Primarily serving Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, we’ve worked with companies worldwide as leadership team building, and corporate team development facilitators.
Jim Jensen, MA LPC is the Principal and Founder of Dynamic Teams LLC, specializing in helping leaders of companies build healthy culture through dynamic leadership teams.