The research evidence is clear. The better your process for making decisions, the better the decisions will be.
When it comes to making decisions, the process you use for making them has a big impact on how good they will be.
Follow a transparent, rational, data-driven process and you stand a good chance of making a good decision. The best process for making excellent decisions is straightforward, and shown in its bare bones below.
You'll also get extra evidence-based advice on how to handle team dynamics when making big decisions in teams from the 'Making decisions in teams' section; and if your decision is more of a 'creative problem solving' exercise, just go to the 'Creativity and innovation' section for many more techniques :
1. Define the problem carefully
It sounds simple, but this stage is crucial. You can use the 5 Why’s approach (see the Objectives & Key Results page) to get the framing of the problem exactly right.
2. Specify the criteria that a decision has to satisfy
As a team or an individual, create a long wish-list of criteria, then refine it to a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves.
3. Create possible options
At this stage cast the net wide and stretch your imagination. You will have plenty of opportunity to get rid of unsuitable options later. You can use creative problem-solving techniques to spark your imagination.
4. Re-visit your criteria
After the initial creative session, re-visit your criteria for the decision - as a team. The creative work may have triggered new possibilities.
5. Assess your options
Finally, go through the options, scoring them against your criteria. Weight the criteria or adding new ones if you need to. Options appraisal is a technique to help in the team’s decision-making, not an answer in itself.
Check that the option that scores highest actually meets your must-have decision criteria. If not, repeat the process or re-negotiate the criteria together.
Select the best option - but we are not quite finished yet.
In the process of selection, you may have noticed one or two features of the unsuccessful options that you would like to incorporate into the final selection. There is evidence that reviewing the unsuccessful options (without throwing the whole process open again) can improve your ultimate decision.
The process is as important as the decision
Even with the best processes, we fallible human beings are prey to a wide range of decision traps. Misunderstandings, unwitting biases, errors of judgement – the field of behavioural decision-making1 has discovered numerous ways in which humans make different decisions from computers. Add in the way team culture and team dynamics can hamper team decision-making and it’s a wonder teams make coherent decisions at all, even when they follow the best practice process above. You can find out all about how to make your team dynamics the best they can be for truly effective team decision-making here.
But there is no need to set off on the wrong foot. Give the team the best chance from the start. Commit to an explicit, transparent, candid data-driven process together as the normal way you do business as a team and you’re well on the way to success.
1. See Thinking, fast and slow, Kahneman, Penguin 2012; or Predictably irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions, Ariely, Harper Collins 2009
This exercise looks at the gold-standard decision making process for important decisons and helps you to review your normal process against this standard.
This exercise shows you / your team the best way to select the best option after a creative session where you / your team have produced several ideas. It can also easily be adapted for day-to-day team decisions.