Sunday, October 19, 2014

Timing, Group and Decision Making

Think fast and slow, decision making is both art and science, individual contemplation and team brainstorming.

Decision making is perhaps one of the most important tasks for business leaders and managers, and there’re also many great debates on this topic. From the old chestnut of "Isn't a gut reaction decision as good as a well-considered decision?”, to the timing concerns: do decisions get worse with time? Do they stale date? Would a cognitive reaction to not making a decision lessen the decision's importance to a person so that it no longer mattered? Is there any truth to the statement "ignore it and it will go away", and to the emergent concerns: individual or group, which way is better for making effective decisions in the face of today’s complexity and uncertainty.

How to make the right decisions by the right people at the right timingThere is too often a tendency to take a one-size-fits-all approach to decisions, which includes a linear, and static decision that commits to a singular path. Often, a decision can be segmented via real options analysis/decision tree analysis, but the approach to decision making shall be more systematic and team-oriented, Cognitively the shorter time for decision making helps make the decision (right or wrong) more concrete. But more crucially, it’s about how to make the right decisions by the right people at the right timing.

Group decision making: There is a general feeling that decisions are worse in a group than an individual,  Are they worse because the decisions take more time in a group than an individual? Is the quality of the decision lower when a group makes a decision? (This would fly in the face of all the insistence on collaboration and diversity of thought in business). Do the outcomes of the decisions fare worse in retrospect when made by a group than by an individual? (this might be because in a group there may be differing opinions as to the value of the outcome). Anecdotal observation is that group decisions are worse, mainly because most of the members of the group don't have expertise in the situation presented and/or won't be held individually accountable, and also because of value differences. The value considerations and differences make a different outcome.

Team Maturity: Teams work because they bring different perspectives and information to the table. They help to balance out the biases from which we all suffer. They help to generate more of everything (viable alternatives, criteria, etc.) all of which are shown to improve the quality of decisions. However, the real problem with groups is that they are not usually high-performance groups. A high-performance group has;
* clear goals
* clear communication
* good process and tools
* knowledgeable people
* good executive support

A low mature group will mess you up in a heartbeat. Bad groups will typically have some or all of the following properties;
* Be highly politicized
* have poorly defined goals
* have no common understanding of the goals
* have poor group dynamics (e.g. political point-scoring, groupthink, etc.)
* no clear process and no tools
* ambiguous or weak executive sponsorship.

Process: The group members believe they are making better decisions and they will often go back to review the decisions, update the outcome and comment on what worked and what needs to be worked on. Having a team process is also really important for another reason. How the decision gets made doesn't actually matter. 

What matters is the OUTCOME. The main issue with group decision is tied up also to which is going to be the process to come up with the final decision, weighted voting, consensus, unanimity, etc. All those can slow down the entire process and hinder the quality of the final decision, time is an interesting variable to insert into such scenarios as under that constraint you then have to adjust your overall process to be able to act within that boundary.

Technology: Good teams supported by good software tools typically move through the decision process much quicker. Many are using the decision tool as a "corporate knowledge base" to help make a decision in the future. The reason is that the software speeds the process of building consensus, highlighting areas of difference and focusing discussions on key items that need to be addressed. In other words, the right tools can help you focus on what's important and stops you from wasting time. Even a team decision making will still be slower than an individual decision making, but for the complex decisions, it’s more often the right steps for a well-run team with good tools in decision scenarios.

Culture dynamic: Most of the decisions were difficult and time-consuming as goals and alternatives were continuously being rehashed, debated and tweaked but no one wanted to actually make a decision. Group dynamics are always different. Some groups make you self-conscious so you don't always say what you think, sometimes that kills off good ideas that as an individual, you would look into. In many groups, there are those who might have a constructive, innovative or even brilliant bit to add but are silenced by fear of speaking out in front of a group. There is also the dynamic of the strong individual who can take over the group and bring home a decision in her favor simply through experience or personality. Of course, when there are different levels of organizational hierarchy in the group-making decisions, there is a completely different dynamic at play. And there’s politics evolved in decision making as well. All of which tends to cast doubt as to the efficacy of group decision making.

Decision making is in less a mathematical or fancy methodological consideration but as a sociological problem. Organizational management needs to leverage multiple options and embed the right culture to optimize decisions...


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