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  • Doug Belshaw 2:30 pm on March 20, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: decisions, Mary McCarthy   

    If someone tells you he is going to make ‘a realistic decision’, you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad.

    Mary McCarthy

  • Doug Belshaw 7:26 pm on May 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , decisions, , sociocracy   

    Decision-making in organisations 

    Note: I’m not going to comment on any organisations I currently work with in this post, just those I’ve worked with previously.


    > In many large global companies, growing organizational complexity, anchored in strong product, functional, and regional axes, has clouded accountabilities. That means leaders are less able to delegate decisions cleanly, and the number of decision makers has risen. The reduced cost of communications brought on by the digital age has compounded matters by bringing more people into the flow via email, Slack, and internal knowledge-sharing platforms, without clarifying decision-making authority. The result is too many meetings and email threads with too little high-quality dialogue as executives ricochet between boredom and disengagement, paralysis, and anxiety. ([McKinsey](https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/untangling-your-organizations-decision-making))

    Organisations struggle with decisions, mainly because they either intentionally or unintentionally occupy one end of the decision-making spectrum.

    At one end of the spectrum are organisations where decisions are made all of the time. They’re just *not particularly good decisions*. If these decisions are made lower down the organisational food chain, then senior management can be quick to pin the blame on middle management. If decisions are made by senior management, then sometimes people go out of their way to undermine the impact of that decision in practice.

    Take educational institutions, for example. Often, initiative after initiative comes down in a very hierarchical way. Yet, when you get down to the ‘chalkface’ some of that, sometimes a *lot* of that, doesn’t get implemented. Sometimes that’s for the best; there’s a lot of pointless initiatives, particularly in education. So given the rate of change, the rank-and-file get used to dragging their feet and just looking like they’re doing something.

    Decision-making and the Goldilocks zone

    At the other end of the spectrum are organisations where decisions are very rarely made, if at all. There can be many reasons for this, but whatever the cause, it always leads to organisational paralysis. Meeting after meeting leads to no progress, with the can always being kicked down the road.

    Let’s use the example of a charity or non-profit in decline. Things are getting worse, but doing anything too radical might cause things to go south even more quickly. If the decline had already started before you joined the organisation then it’s not *your* fault, after all. Sadly, what often happens then is that there’s a crisis, and a strong leader-type figure comes in and makes lots of decisions that people hate. So you’re back to the other end of the spectrum.

    What we need is a middle way, an approach where people can make decisions, take responsibility for those decisions, and be supported by other members of the organisation. We have lots of ways of trying to achieve this, including the complicated diagrams that accompany discussions of approaches such as the [OODA loop](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop).

    That’s all well and good, but human interactions are a bit more messy. The OODA loop diagram, for example, includes ‘Unfolding interaction with environment’ which could involve everything from complying with European legislation to a grumpy IT manager who won’t let you do that thing that you really *need* to do!

    Ideally, decisions shouldn’t have to be taken in a hurry. Quick decisions depend on luck as much as skill and gut instinct. To me, the most important thing is that you have the right kind of brains thinking about the problem. So, for example, if you’re about to design a new product, you should design a process that includes a diverse range of contexts and thinkers on the subject.

    Slow decisions are good decisions. Not slow for the sake of being tardy, but slow for the sake of assessing the options and avoiding things that don’t work. It’s a way, I suppose, of organisations becoming [antifragile](https://thoughtshrapnel.com/2018/03/10/antifragility/).

    Antifragile organisations are ones where decision-making is robust because it’s pushed to the edges, to the places where people have enough context to weigh up all of the benefits and drawbacks. It’s more than just ‘engaging’ employees, it’s about making everyone feel like they’re pulling in the same direction, and everyone’s got each other’s back.

    One approach that I’ve seen work well, but is often criticised *because* it can be slow, is [Sociocracy](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy). It’s been around for a while, but has been getting a lot more interest (and traction) in recent years:

    > Sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance, is a system of governance which seeks to achieve solutions that create harmonious social environments as well as productive organizations and businesses. It is distinguished by the use of consent rather than majority voting in decision-making, and decision-making after discussion by people who know each other. ([Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy))

    The trouble is that you can’t just all of a sudden tell people that they’re empowered to make their own decisions, including how they’re going to use their time, without much notice and after hiring them into a hierarchy. Like anything, it takes time, understanding, and *training* to get to a stage where people feel comfortable outside the ‘default operating system’ of hierarchy and top-down decision-making.

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