#288 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 7          July 1997

FORUM—from our leaders

Team Decision-Making?

My company is finally catching up with modern management: team decision-making!  Until recently, major decisions were made by individuals, mostly after consulting with those most impacted by the decision, and with those having insights and the suitable knowledge and experience.  Sometimes people were upset about not being consulted.  Sometimes decisions weren’t necessarily the best ones.  Sometimes bad decisions could have been good ones if the proper person would have been involved.  Therefore, it’s no wonder that team decision-making (we call it TDM) seemed the thing to do. 

Our major competitor, we were told, has been using TDM.  Our chief executive became convinced that we also need to embrace the concept.  After a bunch of consultants spent a week with us, we’re now blessed with the ability to use teams for any major decision.

Not only will our decisions be better, but more of our colleagues will feel that they are playing a greater role in the company’s future.  Empowerment.  That’s the word everyone uses.

Great stuff, this TDM!  I haven’t seen a bad decision yet.  In fact, I haven’t seen a good decision either.  There have been no decisions.  I’m exaggerating, there have been a few, but they’ve all been minor ones. 

The teams I’ve been on reach consensus through discussion and votes.  However, there’s an underlying activity.  Some people wouldn’t dare present an opinion, or vote on an issue, in the presence of people with power over them who would frown on their opinion or vote.  Many people vote according to how the outcome would influence them, not the company.  Discussions, however, focused on company issues.  However, what wasn’t discussed seemed to be the force that drove consensus.

As I said, most of the important decisions haven’t yet been made.  These are matters that would have been quickly dispensed with, prior to TDM.  The issues sure have been talked about, though.  It takes teams to decide who should be on a team.  It takes meetings to learn about the issues.  Sometimes, a consensus doesn’t drive a decision because an important person may not agree with that consensus.  He, then, delays signing off on the decision and plays games to push the team to agree with him.  For instance, one director just held a meeting to show us a business magazine’s article on how a decision, similar to the one our team agreed to, turned out poorly.  The relevance of the article to our situation, however, was weak at best.

It’s difficult to get anything done with all the meetings we attend each week.  To help out, we use company email.  Everyone on a team emails their opinions to all the other team members.  Responses are emailed to all.  Sure saves on meeting space!  But I dread logging on to the computer:  message after message—and most are worthless, many are long, and several specifically ask for my response.  This “discussion” can drag out for months.

I don’t mean to be rude, but the only people who like this “empowerment” are the people who most likely wouldn’t have been consulted in the old autocratic system.  They haven’t at all influenced—except by voting along with their leader—any decision.

I’d love to be on a team with the assignment to report on the success of TDM.


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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.