How to improve our decision-making abilities in a team?

There are different variables at play when we think about making a good decision. Should we leave the decisions to the experts? What about my boss making some of the decisions? In this article, I share my take on collective decision making in a form of a conversation between two people.

How can we determine if we made a good decision or not? 

We cannot; because we are dealing with uncertainties! The only way is to wait and study the consequences of our decision. So, it might be a good idea to avoid any unnecessary conversation about whether a certain decision was good or not. Future will tell.

Hmm, does that mean we don’t need to improve our decision-making abilities since we are dealing with uncertainty? 

Not really! We have been able to find patterns in the topic. Certain people seem to be making better choices than others. Since making a good decision is not a random action, we should be able to improve our decision-making capacilities.  

OK! What impacts our decisions then? 

The first factor is the information about the environment. To make a good decision, we need to understand the current situation well. Alter the data and the decisions change. We have seen how political groups try to influence an election by feeding different set of data to decision makers, the voters.  

And the second factor? 

The second factor is experience. The people who are more experienced in certain domain tend to make a better judgement. An experienced person has a lot of examples to use as a reference.  

Who is considered an experienced person? 

Repeating the same task over and over for many years does not improve our decisions because we have limited scenarios to use as a reference.This is why the number of years is not a good indicator to determine if someone is experienced in a certain field. The quality of our experience is what matters.  

How do we improve our decisions? 

By focusing on improving both variables, information and experience. We need to capture the necessary information about the situation as much as possible. Additionally, we need to improve our experience by exposing ourselves to different scenarios. It is worth considering the logarithmic nature of learning something new. The rate at which we learn something new is very high at first. But after a while, there will not be enough new materials to learn about since we have covered most of the common scenarios already. When we find ourselves in a situation that we are not learning anything new, it is time for a change. 

There is so much we can learn in the little time we have. Can I rely on others? 

Absolutely. This is where the idea of forming a team starts to shape. By sharing our knowledge and experience with others, we can improve the chance of making the right call. This is the core value of collective decision making. At one extreme end, everyone in the team participates in every single decision as one processing unit. But there are some challenges.

Collective decision making is not practical and it does not scale at all! 

This is why we need to rely on others to help us make the right decision. We split the responsibilities to bring focus into the system. This approach will not work if there is no trust in the team.

How to build trust in a team? 

To build trust in a team, everyone needs to agree on the same goal first. Next, we need to sync up on how we make any decision. To sync up, we can discuss how we would approach a certain situation and what we look for when we make any decision. As long as the people in our teams understand how we make our decisions, we can scale up quickly. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

Another challenge is lack of interest in making certain decisions.

Correct! Every team member has his/her own interest in different areas. Even if we include everyone in every decision, they might not be interested in every decision which can have negative impact on our ability to make a good decision. For example, a user interface designer might not be particularly interested in the topics related to back-end services. In this case, each person participates in decision making based on their interests. It is extremely important to remind people if they are not participating in a decision, it is because of their lack of interest in the topic. But they are always welcomed to join the decision makers as long as they meet the expectations around the knowledge and experience needed.

What does that mean for a leader who used to make most of the decisions? 

There is an expectation that the leaders should have the answers. Otherwise, what is the reason for him/her to be our boss? Or evaluate our performance without really knowing what is going on? The issue here is the expectations built over time by promoting wrong people to be our leaders. We even call it a promotion when someone becomes a team lead. Usually people who are outperforming others get promoted. For the same reason, the chance of a good developer to become a team lead is higher. And this is where the issue is. This common misunderstanding among the less experienced people, including myself when at the started of my career, is about career progression.

How can bad career advice be related our decision making? 

We need to look into the motivation behind why someone chooses to be a leader. Here are some common bad reasons:
– Progression: when we work hard, we love to show something for it. Anything that shows we are moving forward makes us feel better. A new title and business card might appear shiny to some. We can fix this wrong interpretation by allowing people to progress in their field of interests and recognize their achievements.
– Financial reasons: some companies define a salary range for each of their titles in the organization. This is fine as long as people can choose to stay in their field of interest and increase their earnings by improving their skills. Make sure not to make an environment that forces people to become managers in order to increase their earning.
– More influence: another wrong reason to become a manager is seeking more influence through authority. This issue is quite common because communicating the reasoning behind decisions requires more time and effort.

What are the responsibilities of a leader in a team then? 

The issue about career path and making sure the teams understand their roles and responsibilities is a never ending task. When we hire new people, we need to consider their experience and their way of thinking and help them in the transition.
When we decide to involve the team members based on their interest in different decisions, we might end up with some areas that are not covered. As a leader, we need to understand why no one is interested in those topics. We could also use a Skills Matrix to help us with filling the gap. The responsibility of a leader is to identify the potentials and help the team achieve the company goals. Since the maturity level differs from team to team, the responsibilities of a leader changes as well depending on the team he or she is leading.  

Should I become a manager? 

That is for you to decide since you know yourself the best.