Team Elements – Commitment: Decision Process

by Ron Potter

Understanding and using the right process is one key to decision making.  It also helps assure that you’ll reach full commitment to the decision rather than compliance.

There have been a number of decision types identified but one simple list includes:

  • Unilateral
  • Consultative
  • Consensus
  • Unanimous


Leave that to the courtroom.  It doesn’t really happen in a corporate environment.


This decision type has the advantages of speed, simplicity, and clarity.  However, it will waste a groups intelligence, invites resistance and lowers motivation.  It should be used when speed and time are paramount and there is a real danger in not making a decision immediately.  It can also be used when one person or team’s decision has little effect or impact on another person or team.

But the real cost of Unilateral decisions occurs with wasted time because of lack of clarity.  I have observed team time wasted by putting a “unilateral” decision on the agenda for a team meeting.  Unilateral decisions should be made and then the rest of the team informed.  Informing is more effective through other means (memos, emails, reports, etc) than making it a topic of a team meeting.  Once a decision hits the agenda, it is assumed or at least treated as if it is up for questioning, discussion or debate.  If a decision is unilateral, do not put it on the agenda!


After observing and working with leadership teams for thirty years, I am convinced that business teams never make consensus decisions.  They may talk as if it was a consensus decision but most decisions are unilateral or consultative.  Don’t kid yourself.

There may be one or two decisions that must be made by consensus because they are so crucial to the future health and well being of the corporation but you cannot run a business by consensus.


Almost all decisions are or should be consultative.  However, one major key to consultative decisions is that there is a clear decision owner.   I have seen hours wasted in team meetings trying to make a decision when the real issue that is being sorted out is who really owns the decision.  Unfortunately, that issue is either ignored or never stated out loud.  Consultative decisions must have a clear decision owner.  Sort that out first before you continue with the decision-making process.

The second most important aspect of good consultative decisions is a clear process.  The consultative decision leader or a good facilitator must help the team through a good process that includes more listening than talking.  One of the best processes to learn is the concept of Prudence.


Prudence is one of those ancient words that doesn’t get much use today and most people would tell me that it doesn’t fit in today’s modern business world.  However, listen to the definition of Prudence:

“The perfected ability to make right decisions.”

As a leadership team, your goal is to perfect your ability to make “right” decisions!  Learn to follow the process of Prudence.

The Prudence process is described as Deliberate, Decide, Do.

  • Deliberate well.  Most teams either don’t do it well or skimp on the deliberation process in order to get to a quick decision.
  • Decide but be sure to use the proper decision type.
  • Do.  Execution of the decision will be much crisper, clearer and faster if the first two steps are properly followed.

Debate, Discuss, Dialogue

Deliberation can be in the form of debate, discussion or dialogue.  Let’s take a quick look at each:

  • Debate.  If you’ve ever been on a debate team you know that the goal is to win.  Often debaters are asked to take a position that they themselves don’t believe is true but the goal of winning remains.  Debate creates winners and losers.  Commitment will not be achieved when a portion of the team feels like they lost.
  • Discussion.  The idea of discussion may sound more civilized but the root word for discussion is the same root word for percussion.  In other words, he who can beat his drum the loudest will win the discussion.  Once again, discussion creates winners and losers.
  • Dialogue.  Dialogue is part of the Socratic method.  The Greek origins are “through discourse or talk.”  The Unabridged Dictionary says to “elicit a clear and consistent expression.”

Dialogue begins with eliciting, questioning, listening.  Everyone must be heard and understood.  (See my short book review of On Dialogue by David Bohm).

If you do a great job of deliberation, using dialogue, decisions will be made easier.  A decision will not only be made easier, but there will also be a full commitment to the decisions that are reached.  This happens even if individuals were opposed to the decision in the first place.  Dialogue works through those differences and allows teams to get beyond compliance with full commitment.

Once full commitment has been achieved, decision execution happens.  No revisiting.  No dragging of feet.  No sabotage.  Just clean, crisp execution.

Get to full commitment by identifying your decision type and using a good process to reach commitment!

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