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Great post from Jason last week and I want to build on what he started. I believe strongly that decision making is the biggest soft spot in how most organizations operate today. I think that the world is full of organizations who work very hard to find and hire smart, creative, talented folks and believe that if they just group them together they will have smart groups making smart decisions.

It does not work that way.

Decision making is one of the most important things that happen inside an organization. It is also one of the most difficult, as there are often real and or perceived risks associated with how you engage in the process especially when there is conflict, organizational politics and power dynamics involved.

In spite of its importance and its difficulty, we continue to take a very hands-off approach toward decision making. I can walk into most organizations and quickly and easily locate some explicit, written expectations for where I should park as an employee, proper use of my name badge, and how to request vacation. I likely cannot find any explicit agreements for how we make decisions and how we deal with disagreement. Which only makes it more difficult and more intimidating.

We hire talented people, we want them to be creative and engaged and to drive innovation…but it is too risky. So they do not.

Jason touched on this when he wrote about the same voices dominating every conversation, and that is definitely part of the issue. Research from Leigh Thompson, Kellogg School of Management, suggests that in a typical six-person meeting, two people do more than 60 percent of the talking; increase the size of the group and the dynamic only gets worse.

Encouraging more participation and more balance is important and there are some fairly simple ways to do both, but I think at least of equal importance is making sure that everyone knows in advance that a decision is going to be made, specifically how that decision is going to be made, how disagreement will be handled and how everyone is expected to participate.

Whether you believe in consensus, democracy, dictatorship or the lottery approach, having a stated approach for making decisions and dealing with disagreement is valuable. Smart groups are groups in which the individual members continue to think for themselves, you can make it easier and safer for them to do that by providing clear expectations.

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