Not all decisions can be made as a group. But improving decision-making skills within a team can keep members interested and committed to common goals.

You can make decisions quickly by yourself, but a lot of time may be lost later as you explain to team members exactly what has to be done and how, says Kristin Arnold, president of Quality Process Consultants Inc. in Stouffville, Ont.

Getting team members more involved in decision making can make them more engaged. Here are some tips for team-based decision-making:

> Decide on a decision-making method
Identify what kind of decision-making process is best for the project. Do you need a consensus? Would a majority vote do or can you make an arbitrary decision?

Consider two issues when looking for the best method for the team, says Jennifer Britton, president of Potentials Realized in Toronto. First, who needs to be involved? Is the decision just for you or does it involve other members directly? Second, think about the actual benefits or setbacks in involving other people. Will it add to the process or simply muddy the waters?

> Spread out the responsibility
Boost team members’ confidence and sense of responsibility by delegating tasks.
“Delegation is really a tool toward team building,” Britton says. “And decision-making is a skill for team building. We delegate in order to boost decision-making ability.”

When delegating, think about what are the tasks and what is required, says Britton. Have you assigned it to the right people, do they have the right information and resources necessary to be able to accomplish the project?

> Check on team members
Make delegating a positive aspect of team building by checking regularly with team members and discussing potential problems.

Find out what obstacles team members face in their projects and whether they need any other resources or information, says Britton.

“Encourage people to be successful and learn as they go.”

> Beware silent dissent
Avoid dissent or negative feelings in the team by encouraging team members to voice their concerns before a decision is reached.

“Silence is deadly in a team because you really don’t know what they’re thinking,” says Arnold.

If the decision is important, ask people individually whether they are comfortable with it.

You can use alternative methods, such as Arnold’s “Five L” straw pole, which gives an indication of the way team members feel about a decision. On a board, write out five options for how a team member might feel. Do they Loathe the decision? Will they Lament it in the parking lot? Can they Live with it? Do the Like it? Do they Love it? Then give each team member a dot or sticker to place next to the appropriate “L.”

The results can lead to a better decision because it illustrates the degree to which individuals agree with a decision and can open a discussion about possible issues. “Usually there’s one or two things that can be done to make that decision even more effective,” Arnold says.

> Have a Plan B
Some decision-making processes are harder to work through than others, so make sure you have a fallback plan.

For example, if the team wants to reach a consensus on a decision, set a time limit and have an understanding of what will happen if you don’t meet it — such putting it to a vote, or you making a decision alone, Arnold says.

“Identify what the fallback is,” he says, “so you’re not held captive by one lone dissenter.”

This is the final instalment in a three-part series on team building