The Decision-Making Process: The 7 Steps That Go Into Making Decisions Effectively 

To kick off our new theme for this month, decision making, we wanted to start by talking about the decision-making process. What can teams learn from this process to better their own decision-making skills, and how can it be used effectively in a team environment? We’ll try to answer these questions in our introductory installment below.

Decisions play a huge part in any team. Most of what a team does can in fact be described as decision making. These decisions take place on many different levels, from boardrooms making decisions about what companies will do in the future, all the way down to the individual decisions that team members make on any given task.

Of course, there are different types of decisions that teams must make, too. Decisions about how to structure teams, how to make workflows more smooth, what new ideas to pursue and what goals to pursue.

All of these decisions combined make a team what it is. It is this confluence of different decisions, occuring on multiple levels and through multiple ways, that gives teams their power as harnessers of human capability and team achievement.

But how often do we think about the decisions we make as a team and go into them? As individuals, we know that sometimes our decision-making becomes routine. We decide to do things because we have always done them. Over time, without looking critically at our own decision-making processes, we tend to ignore some of our biases and habits, and underestimate our ability to self-actualize and change.

Teams are no different. Many teams develop procedures and common ways of making decisions that are meant to make things smoother, but which can end up impeding on their ability to find creative solutions and think outside the box. These rote decision-making processes can sometimes also lead to frustration among team members too, who can feel left out of the process or unhappy with the decisions being made.

That’s why throughout this month, we’ll be looking at different aspects of decision making on teams, with a focus on how to make decisions more intentionally, effectively and inclusively. In this blog post we’ll be reviewing a common decision-making process model, which is a good jumping-off point to discuss decision making and what goes into it.

The 7-Step Decision-Making Process

The following decision-making process, from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is designed to illustrate a basic system for making decisions, using seven distinct steps. The reason we are using it here is because it is so practical and basic. In fact, as we shall see, it isn’t specifically for teams or individuals, and thus provides a good means of looking at the fundamentals of decision-making, regardless of who or what kind of organization is making it.

Image from UMass Dartmout https://www.umassd.edu/fycm/decision-making/process/

1. Identify what decision you’re making 

The first step of the decision-making process is to figure out what decision you’re trying to make. This might sound obvious, but it isn’t always that simple. Sometimes our real decisions are obfuscated by minor ones, and sometimes we don’t have clarity about what it is we’re really trying to decide. 

Remember too, that goals determine a lot of what we decide to do. If you don’t have a clear idea of what your goals are, you may not be able to see the decisions you have to make clearly either. 

So identifying the decision you’re making is not always so simple as saying “this is what I need to decide at the moment.” Taking a step back to zoom out and look at the larger picture can lead you to find a more comprehensive question to decide, or give a better viewpoint of what decisions actually require your attention.

2. Gather information

This step of the decision-making process is clear enough. Once you know what you need to decide, then it becomes a matter of looking for information that will help you reach an informed decision. This can be in the form of research, data collecting, or even just reaching out to listen to other people’s opinions.

It’s important to gather as much information as possible, though, since that will make your decision richer and more likely to deal with any extenuating consequences of your decision. Another important point is to try to be objective at this stage. You want to give voice to all your options, so to speak, and not jump to trying to prove that a certain position is the “right one”. Otherwise, you may end up narrowing your viewpoint.

3. Find alternatives

Connected to this last point, at this stage of the decision-making process, it’s important to find as many alternatives as possible, based on the information you’ve gathered. The more alternatives you have, the better your decision will be, all things being equal. This is because a range of options will help shape your decision in the end, and give you insight into blindspots that you may be missing. This might even involve forcing yourself to look for alternatives, even if you don’t think you need them.

Again, trying to remain objective is key. You want to be open to different ideas and pathways so that you don’t close yourself unnecessarily to a decision that might in fact be the best. You want to have everything available to you out on the table, so as to provide the best picture of what needs to be decided.

4. Weight the evidence

With all your information and alternatives gathered, in the next step of the decision-making process, you can begin to weigh your different options. This is a difficult step, and also one that’s hard to generalize for everyone, since it will be different depending on the decision being made, as well as the personality and goals of the individual or team making it.   

Something to think about though, is that you should try to remain aware of what your values and assumptions are. What weight is given to certain options over others, and based on what. Is this value system based on monetary rewards, reputation, innovation? Am I giving more weight to this piece of evidence because it will help me in the short-run or the long-run? Is fear pushing me to reject some evidence? 

This is a step in the decision-making process that again, acan help challenge how you think about decisions and what weight you place on different information. So being aware of your thinking process here can make you more capable of understanding your decision-making skills later on.

5. Choose which option to pursue

Here’s where the actual “decision” comes in. In this step of the decision-making process, you choose which course of action among your alternatives to take. This doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other, either. You could choose to combine some alternatives together, or to mix and match what you like best, if that actually works out.

One thing to point out is that this step is usually where things can fall apart quickly. Sometimes people are afraid to make a decision clearly, because they don’t want to deal with the consequences or because they are afraid of “losing” their other alternatives. On teams especially, it can sometimes be hard to make a conclusive decision that everyone agrees to.

Decisions are ultimately about opportunity costs, which means that any decision comes at a cost of not being able to do something else. As individuals and as teams, we do have to cultivate more acceptance of losing out on other options, if we want to make decisions effectively. Part of that process has to do with trusting ourselves and our teams, so that we don’t feel that we are losing, but rather gaining new opportunities by moving forward instead of remaining stuck in one place. 

6. Implement your choice

After you have chosen which option you want to pursue, the next stage of the decision-making process is to move ahead with your choice and start to take action on it. This may require some extra decision-making when it comes to figuring out a plan of action that will actually be achievable, and sorting out what you need in order to effect your decision.

Again, this step of the decision-making process is often difficult, and requires being confident with your decision and acting strongly. This step is also known as “following through”, and it’s not uncommon to have to go back to earlier stages if you feel like the decision can’t be implemented properly.

7. Review the decision

After you implement your decision, you’re still not done. The last step of the decision-making process, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked, is to review the consequences of your decision. There is no time limit on this step. You may review your decision a week later, or even a couple of years after the fact. But this step is important because you need to measure the effects of your decision and how it has benefited you or your team.

By analyzing your decisions this way, you can learn from it and make better decisions in the future. But this step also gives you the ability to update or modify your decision. There may be some points that you missed originally, or some consequences that you couldn’t have foreseen. Therefore, it’s important to stay open minded and flexible, and work with what you have. You may not be able to change the past, but you can always learn from it.

Crucial points for teams to keep in mind

While the decision-making process above can be used for both individuals and teams when making decisions, there are certain aspects of the decision-making process that teams need to be especially conscious of. This is because teams have extra challenges (and opportunities) when it comes to making decisions. So now let’s look at some of the variables decision-making that specifically affect teams.

1. The structure of decision making 

When you’re alone making a decision, you don’t really need to think that much about the structure of your decision-making. On teams, though, it’s important to be aware of who is making the decision and how. Are you making a decision in a meeting? Is it based on voting? Are you using a consensus method or is someone going to decide unilaterally in the end? Is the whole team involved and active in the decision-making process? How teams structure their decision making affects how the team functions in general, and needs to be considered.

2. Paying attention to multiple perspectives

Teams are, obviously, made up of more than just one person. And so there are multiple perspectives to take account of when making decisions. This can be a challenge or a major step-up, depending on your perspective. While it can be difficult to listen to different viewpoints, especially when they disagree, having those multiple viewpoints makes finding alternatives easier, and therefore your final decision much stronger. However, that means that you actually need to listen to all viewpoints and make sure that all voices are being heard.

3. The potential for conflict

Of course, having different perspectives raises the chances for potential conflicts. Conflicts can occur in the decision-making process when team members disagree or when they feel like they aren’t being heard or valued. This means that teams need to take care to ensure that their decision-making environments are based on trust and are psychologically safe (when people feel safe to voice their feelings and criticisms). In the event of conflicts, teams may have to engage with conflict resolution, so they should be prepared for this.

4. Team buy-in

With decisions on teams, another important aspect to consider is “buy-in”, which is how team members will accept the decision and internalize it. If team members don’t have buy-in when a decision is made, they may come to resent it or feel apathetic towards it, which will affect the implementation of the decision. To get buy-in requires making team members feel like they are an important part of the decision-making process, and ensuring that they have equal roles to play in implementing it or reforming it. Ultimately, trust in the decision-making process of the team will naturally tend to create a sense of buy-in. 

Conclusion

The decision-making process that we outlined here is just a tiny part of what decision-making on teams encompasses (which we attempted to show in the last section). But, it’s important to start with the basics and understand the general process of making decisions in order to become more aware of where we can improve.  

In upcoming blog posts, we will delve more deeply into decision making, addressing different models of decision making, the biases that we have that affect our ability to make decisions, and some techniques that teams can use to improve their decision-making abilities. Decision making deals with so many aspects of teams and how they function, making it a fundamentally crucial topic to address.         

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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