Deciding how to decide
How you go about making a decision can involve as many choices as the decision itself. Sometimes you have to take charge and decide what to do on your own. Other times it’s better to make a decision using group consensus. How do you decide which approach to use?
Making good decisions is one of the main leadership tasks. Part of doing this is determining the most efficient and effective means of reaching the decision.
You don’t want to make autocratic decisions when team acceptance is crucial for a successful outcome. Nor do you want be involving your team in every decision you make, because that is an ineffective use of time and resources. What this means is you have to adapt your leadership style to the situation and decision you are facing. Autocratic styles work some of the time, highly participative styles work at other times, and various combinations of the two work best in the times in between.
The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model provides a useful framework for identifying the best leadership style to adopt for the situation you’re in.
This model was originally described by Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton in their 1973 book titled Leadership and Decision Making. Later in 1988, Vroom and Arthur Jago, replaced the decision tree system of the original model with an expert system based on mathematics. Hence you will see the model called Vroom-Yetton, Vroom-Jago, and Vroom-Yetton-Jago. The model here is based on the Vroom-Jago version of the model.
Understanding the Model:
When you sit down to make a decision, your style, and the degree of participation you need to get from your team, are affected by three main factors:
- Decision Quality – how important is it to come up with the “right” solution? The higher the quality of the decision needed, the more you should involve other people in the decision.
- Subordinate Commitment – how important is it that your team and others buy into the decision? When teammates need to embrace the decision you should increase the participation levels.
- Time Constraints – How much time do you have to make the decision? The more time you have, the more you have the luxury of including others, and of using the decision as an opportunity for teambuilding.
Specific Leadership Styles
The way that these factors impact on you helps you determine the best leadership and decision-making style to use. Vroom-Jago distinguishes three styles of leadership, and five different processes of decision-making that you can consider using:
|Style:||Autocratic – you make the decision and inform others of it.
There are two separate processes for decision making in an autocratic style:
|Process:||Autocratic 1(A1) – you use the information you already have and make the decision|
|Autocratic 2 (A2) – you ask team members for specific information and once you have it, you make the decision. Here you don’t necessarily tell them what the information is needed for.|
|Style:||Consultative – you gather information from the team and other and then make the decision.|
|Process:||Consultative 1 (C1) – you inform team members of what you doing and may individually ask opinions, however, the group is not brought together for discussion. You make the decision.|
|Consultative 2 (C2) – you are responsible for making the decision, however, you get together as a group to discuss the situation, hear other perspectives, and solicit suggestions.|
|Style:||Collaborative – you and your team work together to reach a consensus.|
|Process:||Group (G2) – The team makes a decision together. Your role is mostly facilitative and you help the team come to a final decision that everyone agrees on.|
This is a useful model, but it’s quite complex and long-winded. Use it in new situations, or in ones which have unusual characteristics: Using it, you’ll quickly get a feel for the right approach to use in more usual circumstances.
To determine which of these styles and processes is most appropriate, there is a series of yes & no questions that you ask yourself about the situation, and building a decision tree based on the responses. There are seven questions in total. These are:
- Is the technical quality of the decision very important? Meaning, are the consequences of failure significant?
- Does a successful outcome depend on your team members’ commitment to the decision? Must there be buy-in for the solution to work?
- Do you have sufficient information to be able to make the decision on your own?
- Is the problem well-structured so that you can easily understand what needs to be addressed and what defines a good solution?
- Are you reasonably sure that your team will accept your decision even if you make it yourself?
- Are the goals of the team consistent with the goals the organization has set to define a successful solution?
- Will there likely be conflict among the team as to which solution is best?
Use Figure 1 below to follow your answers through on the decision tree and identify the best decision process for your circumstances. Not that in some scenarios, you don’t need to answer all of the questions.
In general, a consultative or collaborative style is most appropriate when:
- You need information from others to solve a problem.
- The problem definition isn’t clear.
- Team members’ buy-in to the decision is important.
- You have enough time to manage a group decision.
An autocratic style is most efficient when:
- You have more expertise on the subject than others.
- You are confident about acting alone.
- The team will accept your decision.
- There is little time available.
The underlying assumption of the Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Models is that no one leadership style or decision making process fits all situations.
By analyzing the situation and evaluating the problem based on time, team buy-in, and decision quality, a conclusion about which style best fits the situation can be made. The model defines a very logical approach to which style to adopt and is useful for managers and leaders who are trying to balance the benefits of participative management with the need to make decisions effectively.