It is said that ‘regardless of what it produces, an organisation is a factory that manufacturers judgements and decisions.’ [Kahneman, 2011]. Organisations are therefore defined by the decisions they do, or in some cases, do not take. The decision to expand or diversify is extremely difficult. Should a business take the decision to be more liberal in their approach, or to stick with traditional values? In today’s business environment, there is a need to be flexible and adaptable, allowing for fast and effective decision making based on data. In order to do this, engaging all areas of the organisation is critical.
Despite ‘collaboration’ being a value often espoused by businesses, their organisational structures are all too often designed in such a way that this is prevented. The slow and siloed nature of the traditional department structure adds time, waste, and money to the process. Decision making is often done by individual senior managers based on the retention of power. The communication of the reason behind these decisions is poor and further enhances the silos. This leads into individuals being unclear on why a decision is needed and what the process was for making it, resulting in decisions that are shrouded in chaos and complexity that rarely resolve the root cause of the problem.
In order to address the issues of ownership and sustainability in decision making, a different approach is needed. This approach should focus on collaborative decision making as part of a cross-functional group structure and can be extremely beneficial to organisations when trying to successfully implement change. Where there is limited good quality data for decision making, a collaborative approach that utilises the expertise and experience of a team rather than an individual can increase the likelihood of making a good decision.
To ensure members are able to contribute freely and equally in a collaborative environment, the roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined, such as appointing a group co-ordinator to maintain pace and structure of sessions, a reflector to assess group performance and a chairman to maintain decision-making standards. These roles should be rotated to maintain group engagement, especially when group members are contributing remotely via conference call, which should always be chosen over simple phone calls as being able to see engagement in the meeting is vital to the decision-making process.
Individual expertise should be acknowledged within a group to provide motivation to team members. In some instances, however, there can be a conflict with the individual’s other organisational responsibilities which can have a bearing on the group’s ability to reach a consensus. This can be mitigated by setting clear mutual objectives that drive collaboration as opposed to rewarding individual contributions.
Another useful methodology in collaborative working is to create a standard for making decisions. A decision matrix will provide the assessment criteria for the validation of new ideas, allowing any combination of team members to come to the same decision, every time. This allows the dissemination of the responsibility of decision making whilst still ensuring quality. This dissemination is particularly important for those organisations that are virtual in nature or have multiple locations as it allows for contribution from all, resulting in timely decisions and buy-in to the solutions offered.
In summary, collaborative working not only increases the quality of the decision, but it builds on commitment from team members. This creates an increased likelihood of the solution or decision being implemented successfully within the organisation. Group decision making also takes significantly less time than that of individual decision making. These attributes are likely to set apart an organisation from that of its competitors, allowing it to implement change swiftly, successfully and, most importantly, in the right direction for organisational growth. To really reap the benefits of a collaborative organisation, care has to be taken to nurture and evolve the group and the individuals within it.
The power of collaborative teams comes from engaging an entire workforce in driving the company forward. Setting the structure of decision making allows contributors to understand what they can be responsible for and what they should escalate. Team cohesiveness is a powerful substitute for leadership, and this increases accountability for day to day decisions, leaving managers and leaders the room to do get on with leading as they feel more confident in taking a step back.
Alexandra Poole, Managing Director and Senior Business Coach at The iNNiTi Effect, commented: “In the context of change programmes, those organisations that embrace collaboration are much more likely to make significant and sustainable improvements over those that don’t.
“Relationships are one of the most important aspects in a change programme, as success requires everyone to come along on the journey. Collaboration (especially in decision making) provides the buy in through the involvement of the workforce in designing and realising a better future for themselves and their organisations.”