Collaborative Decision Making in the Workplace – 101

Collaborative Decision Making in the Workplace – 101

Collaboration is a buzzword these days. Especially so in the corporate lingo. But rarely do individuals & companies, pay attention to the basics of collaboration. 

Collaborative decision making is at the root of most successful teams in the world. But what is collaborative decision making, really?

Collaborative decision making occurs when a team of individuals reaches a consensus. This consensus should be on the best possible solution, chosen from within a set of few proposed. This sounds time consuming already, doesn’t it? While that may be the case, it defends against a lot of pitfalls of other processes of decision making. Such as cognitive bias, trial & error etc. Not only that it promotes an atmosphere of teamwork. All the individuals involved are more invested in the success of the solution

Collaborative approach works best where work culture supports a high level of engagement. Freedom to creatively solve problems also encourages seamless collaboration. 

Implementing a collaborative decision-making approach in your organization is hard. Give your team the freedom to perfect collaboration without constraint of an unrealistic deadline. With practice and repetition, collaboration will become more streamlined over time. 

Below are a few tried & tested steps to make decision making collaborative. 

Choose a facilitator

Most initiatives need a facilitator or a lead to achieve their goals and objectives. Collaborative decision making is no different. Without committed leadership, the process is at risk of failure. 

This facilitator handles things such as :

  • gaining buy-in and commitment from key stakeholders
  • creating definitions of success & failure for the initiative 
  • aligning the initiative with other goals
  • fostering teamwork throughout the entire process 

Facilitator will also ensure that the group stays focused on the problem at hand. And coaches them through the solution identification and selection process. All this via a series of small, manageable steps.

Identify and scope the problem

Without clear identification of the problem at hand, team can fall off course.  This can lead to discouragement and confusion. First step to success is ensuring that each member is able to articulate the problem clearly.

To understand the problem, you must first understand what cannot be changed. If non-negotiable regulatory policies exist, consider that in the scope of the problem. Of course, you cannot change the regulations or violate them.

Next, list the unknowns surrounding the problem. And track what information is yet to be uncovered.  This information can aid in finding proposed solutions. Also, take note of any future events that may impact the problem. This might fall outside of the current scope of your solution. But will prove important for future iterations of the decision-making process. 

Build a success model and uncover alternative solutions

Rather than dwelling on negative impacts of the current problem, team should focus on finding a solution. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pessimism when the focus is entirely negative. Instead, focus on what is contributing to the problem. It will allow each team member to provide their unique perspectives. And reveal more ideas for alternative solutions in the next phase of the process.

Capture company values, monetary impact, corporate objectives and potential tradeoffs.  Discuss each alternative in that context. This will help you narrow down multiple, complex solutions in the final selection process.

Collect data

It is time to collect data to support proposed solutions. Problem is clearly defined in the first step & then the business impact is deliberated upon.

One mistake that many teams make is to collect any and all data points. Whether they directly relate to the problem at hand or not. Because too much extraneous data only clouds the team’s ability to stay within scope. 

Team should weigh value of the collected data against the ability to support the predefined measures of success. Include only data that is critical to the collaborative decision-making in the evaluation and selection process. The facilitator can assist the team in focusing on the this effort to support the process goal.

Evaluate alternative solutions and make a selection

Now the team is finally ready to choose the best solution to the problem. Facilitator can assist team members in organising their unique thoughts about each proposed solution. Use tools such as decision matrix.

There is a possibility of not reaching an immediate consensus. In that case it may also help to complete a cost-benefit analysis. This will aid the team in selecting the solution that best maps to business objectives.

Create an implementation plan for the solution of choice

Selecting a solution doesn’t mean that the work is done. Without executing the proposed solution, the problem will remain unsolved. 

An effective implementation plan considers the goal and works backward to create actionable steps to set the solution into motion. 

Your team shouldn’t be alarmed if they uncover previously unforeseen barriers as they build the implementation plan. This is a common occurrence in the implementation phase. Address any potential issues with the same collaborative decision making process.

Organisations of all types and sizes stand to benefit from a collaborative approach to decision making. In today’s competitive marketplace, teams must approach problem-solving in new ways and avoid the pitfalls of uncertainty, disagreement and chaos. The facilitated, collaborative methodology of a group-driven decision is the shortest path to lasting problem resolution and a strong culture of teamwork.