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8 Steps for Improving Team Decision-making
8 Steps for Improving Team Decision-making

Bad team decision-making often leads to poor team performance. Use these strategies to level up your team's decision-making skills.

Stephen Franklin avatar
Written by Stephen Franklin
Updated over a week ago

Teams constantly have to make decisions that impact both the team and its team members. Teams that excel at decision-making perform better and move quickly while teams that struggle with decisions are held back from reaching their potential. Fortunately, decision-making is a skill that can be improved both at the team and individual levels. Here are some strategies that will help you and your team improve your decision-making skills and become the high-performing team that you know you can be.

1) Create a set of Guiding Principles for making decisions

No two decisions will be exactly the same. With no agreed-upon guidance or direction for making decisions, teams end up with ad-hoc processes created on the fly each time a decision needs to be made. This usually results in unnecessary effort and misalignment as team members don't have a clear understanding of how and why decisions were made. On the other hand, creating static and inflexible rules that apply the same to every decision will result in inconsistent outcomes and a lot of wasted effort. Instead, work with your team to create a set of Guiding Principles for decision-making that the team can apply and adapt to the specific decision context. Using a principles-based approach enables efficiency and consistency while allowing flexibility to the specific context of the decision. These principles should provide guidance on how the team should determine a decision's impact, categorize the decision based on impact and span of responsibility, and apply the appropriate model based on the category. Try using Teaming's Team Principles and Practices Workshop on decision-making as a guide for creating your team's guiding principles.

2) Evaluate the decision's impact

Teams need to make dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions each week. These decisions will have a wide variety of effects on the team, its members, and its stakeholders ranging from minor effects for a single member up to massive shifts that affect the entire team and beyond. Teams that excel at decision-making are able to quickly assess the potential impact of each decision and apply the appropriate practice and level of attention necessary to make the best decision while teams that are struggling with decisions often spend far too much focus and energy on decisions with little impact. Establish a team habit of assessing the magnitude of potential effects (the extent of the consequences), the span of the effects (who will be affected), and timeframe (how long will the effect be felt) early in the decision-making process. This will help ensure your team is focusing on the most important decisions and is applying the team's decision-making processes consistently.

3) Make the process and responsibilities explicit

Once a decision's impact has been determined, use this information to determine how the decision will be made, who is responsible for the decision, and who needs to be involved. Since the consequences of each decision vary greatly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is where your team will leverage their decision-making principles to help them determine the best decision strategy and how responsibilities will align. For major decisions, it's critical that these determinations are explicit and understood by all team members. This allows the team to move quickly toward a decision without the burden of uncertainty and creates the transparency necessary to get buy-in once the decision is made.

4) Identify the decision objectives

Before making any high-impact decisions, it's important to frame and communicate the overall objectives of the decision and why the decision is necessary. Creating this shared understanding of the context, purpose, and desired benefits will allow your team to work together and reduce the likelihood of unproductive conflict caused by different interpretations and misaligned motivations.

5) Gather input and evaluate options

Teams tend to make better decisions with more comprehensive information. For consequential decisions, it's important that your team spend time upfront identifying risks and uncertainty related to the decisions. From there, they can perform the necessary research and data collection to reduce these risks and uncertainty as much as practical.

Once the involved team members have a shared understanding of the context, it's essential that each of these members has an opportunity to share their ideas, opinions, and perspectives. First, this makes it likely that you will a diverse set of ideas from different perspectives helping to avoid groupthink. Secondly, this ensures that team members feel heard and that their input was considered which is critical both for getting future buy-in for the decision as well as for promoting a healthy team environment.

After reducing uncertainty, building a shared understanding, and collecting input across the team, the next step is to synthesize the ideas into a list of viable options to evaluate for their merit. For complex decisions, often it's helpful to build a Decision Matrix to help evaluate each option across the main criteria. During this stage, encourage the team to try to detach themselves from their original viewpoints and ideas so that their evaluation is unbiased as much as possible.

6) Decide and commit

At this stage in the decision-making process, those responsible for making the final decision need to make the decision so the team can move forward. Unless the decision required a unanimous vote, this most likely means that not everyone agrees that the best decision was made. As the team leader, your responsibility isn't to ensure that everyone agrees with every decision but that everyone agrees with how the decision was made. Once made, it's critical for the entire team to fully commit to accomplishing the decision together. If any of your team believes a decision was made unjustly, they will, at best, be unlikely to commit to its follow-through and, at worst, an active impediment to its implementation. This is why having a set of guiding principles agreed upon by the team and a transparent and understood process is so important.

7) Monitor and adapt

Fundamentally, decision-making is an attempt to predict future outcomes for actions that have not yet occurred using imperfect and incomplete information. Considering this, it is not only unrealistic for teams to believe they can make perfect decisions but also counterproductive. In fact, high-performing teams don't optimize for making the best initial decision, rather they focus on making decisions quickly, moving forward, and adapting as they learn. This requires teams to actively seek new information and be ready to adapt their plans as needed. Have your team make note of the risks and uncertainty they identify during the decision-making process and use these as a guide to determine what needs to be measured and monitored. For impactful decisions, establish a team practice to periodically review the insights from this monitoring and use these to adjust the team's plans and actions when necessary. Your responsibility as the team leader is to cultivate a "learning mindset" throughout the team and create team discipline and openness to review and adjust to previous decisions.

8) Have patience

Improving any skill takes time and requires repetition for making gradual progress. This applies to individuals but particularly when developing a group skill such as team decision-making. It's your responsibility as the team leader to establish the foundation for making good decisions and the mindset for continual improvement. You must also give the team the mandate and opportunity to make decisions and practice, make mistakes, and evolve their skills. The process will not be smooth and problem-free but you must stay patient. If you show frustration or lack of trust, like requiring your approval for all decisions, your team will quickly lose any motivation to improve. Instead, by showing patience and confidence in them, your team will desire the autonomy and agility that great decision-making teams develop.


For many teams, inferior decision-making represents one of the greatest barriers to reaching their peak performance and greatest potential. Fortunately, team decision-making is a skill that can be developed and improved. Incorporating these and other tactics into your team's habits and behaviors will create the framework and opportunity for your team to improve and eventually excel at decision-making allowing them to reach their full potential.

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