5 Team Decision-Making Styles and When Best To Use Them

There are a number of team decision-making styles out there, and it’s important to choose the one that is best for your team, or the one that is best for solving the problem at hand. Here we present four broad team decision-making styles and review their pros and cons. 

As we’ve seen so far in our series on decision making, there’s a lot that goes into decisions. From how our brains process information, to what goals we want to achieve in the decision, and what metrics we use to evaluate the decision afterwards, there’s a lot to think about. And different decisions may require different approaches, such as using a more analytical method or a more creative one.

On teams, all this is the same, but there is an extra dimension that is important to bear in mind, which is the organizational method that the team employs to make the decision. After all, teams are organizations composed of different members. So finding the right approach to balance the interests of all these members in an effective way is key when making decisions as a team.

Obviously, just as each individual is different and thinks in different ways, so too are teams different in their ways of thinking and internal dynamics. Finding the right team decision-making style requires knowing your team and understanding what works best for them. But it also requires a certain level of flexibility, too. Not all team decision-making styles will work in every case.

While there are an infinite number of different team decision-making styles, in this blog post we will focus on the five major approaches. These approaches are sort of like genres or categories of team decision making. They are broad and encompass many more particular styles, but this makes it easier to talk about team decision-making styles in a more generalized way.

The five decision-making styles

1. Command

Also known as an “autocratic” style, this team decision-making style basically means that one person makes the decision alone. No other opinions are involved, and the decision-maker merely relates the decision to the rest of the team.

The command approach can sound harsh, but it can be useful in certain situations or contexts. If the team is in crisis and needs to make fast decisions, then a command style will be faster and move the team more quickly along. 

The command style may also be effective when the issue requires specialized or experienced knowledge, and when the decision is unlikely to affect the rest of the team in a significant way. This is basically how many teams operate on day-to-day tasks. Team members are generally entrusted to make command decisions over their own work, until a problem or challenge arises that requires consultation with the rest of the team.      

Pros:

  • Quick and immediate.
  • Useful during crises.
  • Effective for tasks that don’t require the whole team’s attention, or issues that require specialized knowledge or experience.

Cons:

  • Can make team members feel left out or resentful.
  • Doesn’t always take into account team members’ opinions and feelings.
  • Depends heavily on the competence and effectiveness of the person deciding.

2.  Consult 

With the consultative team decision-making style, one person still takes the responsibility for making the decision. However, they do so only after talking with the rest of the team first. Thus, the decision-maker gains some sense of other team members’s thoughts, feelings and attitudes. 

This style of decision-making again relies heavily on the personality and leadership style of the person making the decision. There may be cases where the decider is genuinely interested in gathering the opinions and ideas of the rest of the team. And they may show that they are actually swayed by listening to the rest of the team, which helps to make team members feel more included.

Of course, there may be other cases where the consulting style is merely a pretense for a decision that has already been made. In these cases, consultative styles may breed similar resentments as the command approach. For teams that utilize the consultative team decision-making style it’s important to engender trust between the team and the decision-maker, and ensure that actual communication is taking place.

Pros: 

  • Increases buy-in and makes team members feel like they are being heard.
  • Keeps responsibility clear.
  • Retains some of the quickness of the command style.

Cons:

  • Can be used simply as a mask for command styles.
  • Effectiveness based on the level of trust, communication and leadership style of the decision-maker.   

3. Democratic 

With democratic team decision-making styles, decisions are made by voting. While seemingly straightforward, this team decision-making style comes with a lot of pitfalls. The benefits are obviously that it gives everyone a sense of where everyone is, and it allows all team members to participate equally (one person, one vote).

However, if the voting is not conducted well, or there is insufficient consensus beforehand, voting can be used to silence minority or unpopular opinions. It can also offload responsibility, since the decision can be attributed to the popular will of the group, rather than to the person whose bad idea it was. 

Oddly enough, voting as a team decision-making style does work when the stakes are a lot lower, like at the very beginning of a discussion. Here, voting can work to gauge team members’ initial thoughts and to “read the room”. 

Pros:  

  • Everyone participates equally.
  • Makes the results clear.
  • A good way to gauge opinions.  

Cons:

  • Can be used to deflect responsibility. 
  • Can create an “us versus them” attitude or marginalize the minority opinion.
  • Takes more time. 

4. Consensus 

The consensus team decision-making style means that team members agree to a decision that they can all live with. This may not be the most optimal choice for all members, and it could in fact be a decision that non one is actually happy with. But team members agree to it because they feel that it is the best that they can do without making one side too upset. 

Consensus is often hailed as the goal for many decisions, but it has its downsides, too. For one thing, as we mentioned, not everyone is necessarily happy with a consensus decision, which could create problems with buy-in on the team.

Furthermore, without effective communication, the consensus decision might not take into account the real opinions of team members. In other words, the rush and pressure to reach consensus can sometimes drown out significant criticisms or opinions that might seem unpopular. 

Pros: 

  • Is both inclusive and participatory.
  • Creates shared commitment.
  • Opinions are shared.

Cons:

  • Time consuming.
  • Can lead to a decision that no one likes.
  • Can overwhelm conflicting opinions.

5. Collaborate 

The difference between consensus and collaborative team decision-making styles might seem slight, but it is very significant. While with consensus, the goal is to come up with an agreement that “everyone can live with”, collaboration’s goal is to come up with a decision that “everyone can work towards”. This style is geared towards moving forward together as a team, and using this decision as one stepping stone in that process.

Collaboration means that teams work together not just to reach a consensus, but to reach a decision that they all feel confident and inspired by. It is essentially a more creative process, since team members create the decision that they want to see.. This of course requires a lot of empathy and trust, but also some conflict, especially when it comes to sharing opinions and criticisms openly.  

Obviously, collaboration as a team decision-making style means that teams must have a strong foundation beforehand. It can also be a very slow process, requiring lots of discussions, depending on how serious the issue is. Teams that practice working together and strengthening their relationships, through things like team building activities, can get better at making quicker collaborative decisions.

Still, the collaborative team decision-making style should be considered when the issue is related to the core nature of the team, because it creates the most amount of buy-in. Collaborative styles are also naturally better for creative decisions, where the goal is to come up with a new idea or path forward. 

Pros:

  • Brings the team together to find a decision that everyone believes in.
  • Values the opinions and feelings of everyone.
  • Builds a better team environment for future decisions.

Cons

  • Can be very time consuming.
  • Requires strong team foundations.
  • Potential for being chaotic. 

How to determine which team decision-making style is right for your team?

To figure out which one of the above team decision-making styles is right for your team, it’s important to reflect, and ask yourself the following questions. 

What kind of decision is this?

Is this a serious decision that relates to the whole team, or is this a simple decision that can be done quickly? Is this decision related to something your team cares about? 

How much commitment do you need from the team?

Do you need the whole team to be involved and all-in, or do you only need the commitment of a few people? Or is this a decision that doesn’t require any commitment from anyone else (in which case you can probably make the decision on your own).

How is the problem structured?

Is it well-defined? Do you know its parameters? Are you able to gain enough information about the problem? Are your goals for meeting the problem likewise well-defined? Will you be able to measure the results after the decision has been made?

• What is the potential for conflict?

Is this decision likely to cause conflict, either in the discussion period or after? Can this conflict be contained or managed? Can your team manage the conflict together, or will someone need to mediate? Who will be affected by any conflict that occurs? 

How is your team environment structured?

Do you have a hierarchical or more fluid structure? Do you have a supportive and/or inclusive team environment? Are their communication and interpersonal relationship skills strong? Do you work together as a team often, or do people mostly work on their own?

These questions are meant to get you thinking about your team and its inner workings when it comes to the decision making process. Remember, there is a lot that goes into decision making. So it’s important to be honest about what your team’s capabilities are, and where they could be improved. 

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