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Decision Making Styles

From direction to democracy!

Decision Making Style

From direction to democracy!

If we’re to become effective decision makers, it’s important that we are aware of various decision making styles.

Some managers may use just one particular style, perhaps because it’s just the way they do things. A more effective management practice is to vary our decision making styles, dependent on specific situations and the range of factors which relate to that situation.

One key aspect of choosing the appropriate style is the extent to which others participate in any decision, and the nature of their involvement. Key questions to be asked include: on what basis do you decide whether to involve others, and what could or should that involvement be?

This is part of our series on decision making. Our first article, types of decision making outlines a range of decision making approaches. Here we discuss approaches based on various decision making styles, and the factors which may influence our choice of style.

Decision Making Styles by Degree of Participation

Firstly, how can we categorize some different decision making styles? In the 1970’s, Yale University’s Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton proposed a model which was aimed at helping managers to improve the way they made decisions. The model included three basic decision making styles, which can be broadly summarized as:

  • A directive or autocratic approach, in which (for example) a team leader makes the decision alone.
  • A consultative approach, in which the leader involves the team but still makes the final decision alone.
  • A participative approach, where the team agrees a decision which is accepted by all.

The choice of which style to adopt for any one decision, and thus the degree of participation, will depend on various factors.  For example, time pressure might necessitate a more directive approach. If the quality of the decision was most important, then ensuring a more consultative style might be needed. One that ensured people with appropriate knowledge and experience were involved in the decision. If a high acceptance was the most crucial factor in any decision made, then a participative style would be most appropriate.

A related model, developed in the late 1950’s by Tannenbaum and Schmidt, introduces another dimension to our understanding of decision making styles. Their model considers the importance of other human variables in the decision making process. It’s important to remember factors such as personality, motives and values, in all participants, when choosing a decision making style.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt developed a wider range of possible ways a leader might work with a group or team, broadly moving from a directive approach to one that delegates to the group. According to this model, the type of decision making style selected has a direct bearing on participant commitment, as their involvement in making the decision increases.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt: Decision making styles

(Adapted from the CMI’s Understanding Leadership Styles)

The clear inference to be drawn from this is that the higher the degree of participation in the decision, the higher the level of commitment, and probably the greater the likelihood of successful implementation of the decision.

Both approaches suggest that decision making styles should be adapted dependent on the context. It therefore suggests that leaders need to be able to assess the situation and then apply an appropriate approach. There are of course many different situations that may impact how a decision is made and factors like the maturity of the team to be involved in decision making and the culture of the organisation will also need to be borne in mind.

Think about these two models in relation to your own situation. Do any of your decisions warrant a team involvement? Is the team equipped and prepared to contribute to the decision making process? What are the risks of involving or not involving the team? What about other environmental factors which may have a bearing on your decision making styles?

Generally, the quality of decisions, and the support of others in successfully implementing those decisions, increases with well managed participation. However, as the decision making process becomes more complex, you may need to discuss with your team what group decision making methods you may want to employ.

A Final Thought: Are You a Maximiser or Satisficer?

Often it’s necessary to make decisions by taking account of our own personal and/or situational constraints. In such circumstances we may need to choose between decisions that are “good enough” as opposed to those which might be “ideal”.

Decision making stylesSelecting “good enough” decisions is sometimes categorized as “satisficing”. This means going with the first decision that is acceptable, and that meets the minimum requirements for the solution.

Alternatively when “maximising” a decision, the focus is on finding the best decision. Herbet Simon developed ideas around maximising and satisficing in recognition that in the real world, decisions are often made with many restrictions and constraints at play.

It may be that some decisions warrant a “good enough” approach either because they are lower level decisions, or because of the situational constraints we need to address. However, it may also be that our personal preferences or characteristics lean us towards either maximising or satisficing. Being aware of our style of decision making, based on our own tendencies, can help to ensure we don’t accept “good enough” when only the best will do.

More on decision making styles

Making Better DecisionsYou’ll find more on these and other practical techniques in our e-guide: Making Better Decisions.

It’s packed with practical tools, clear processes, great tools, useful tips, thoughtful insights, and emerging ideas on “nudging” decisions.

Use the tools in this guide to help your decision making:

  • Tool 1: Do you need to make a decision?
  • Tool 2: The POCA decision making model
  • Tool 3: Decision levels
  • Tool 4: 7 step decision making process
  • Tool 5: Team decision making
  • Tool 6: Evaluating alternatives

See for yourself how to use the 7 steps in decision making, to help you be a better manager.

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