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Decision-making: avoiding turf wars

In unlocking great decision-making, cross-cutting decisions rank among the hardest to get right in most organizations.
Decision-making: Avoiding turf wars
Aaron De Smet

Delivers growth, innovation, and organizational agility and is an expert on culture change, leadership development, team effectiveness, capability building, and transformation

In unlocking great decision-making, cross-cutting decisions rank among the hardest to get right in most organizations.

A typical basketball team, for instance, furnishes a blueprint. Players, each with different skills and roles, must work together to execute successful “plays.” Coaches (like senior leaders) select the right players, define roles, shape specific approaches to offense and defense, and help the team learn specific “plays” to master seamless execution. The outcome then reflects a group of actions by different players working together.

Similarly, a cross-cutting decision is not a single discrete choice, but the culmination of choices made by different players in a series of steps that typically cut across different functions and parts of the business.

So, when a company decides how many widgets it will produce, the final number at year-end generally reflects cross-boundary decisions made as plans evolve and change and as new information emerges. The final “decision” reflects many small choices made over time.

Cross-cutting decisions differ from delegated choices by an individual or team and from less frequent big-bet decisions such as an acquisition that impacts an organization broadly. Treating them the same is a big mistake since decisions that cut across the organization are made by different groups as part of a collaborative process.

Thus, the process is more important than the final decision-maker. Examples of cross-cutting decisions include pricing, sales and operations planning, and new product development. Organizations often struggle making them because of their inherent complexity with many steps, small decisions and people involved. The trick: Break the big decision down and design an effective process for making it.

Effective cross-cutting decision-making involves:

  • Developing a shared view of the entire process centering on ensuring everyone understands how that works and who plays where. Focus on handoffs and decision points. Avoid getting bogged down with all the distinct activity steps along the way.
  • Designating the decision-makers: We often use a “decision RACI”:
    • “Recommenders” develop options, analyze them and make recommendations. They also get input from those who consulted. (Note: They do not have a vote.)
    • “Approvers” are the only decision-makers and rarely number more than two or three. In many cases, there is only one.
    • “Consulters” help but don’t have a vote. The As decide which Cs are involved and how. We often use an asterisk to denote a strong C, and a C* typically joins the decision-making while Cs do not. Our experience indicates that more Cs is a good thing.
    • The “Informed” need to be kept in the picture but are not formally consulted or don’t contribute in making the decision. While they merely observe, they provide speed in helping execute a decision.

  • Delivering effective governance: Involve a group of leaders, typically a committee or cross-functional team, to align on or approve a decision. Design the process to minimize them, and don’t force decisions through committees whose charter and agendas center mainly around topics and information sharing.
  • Creating shared objectives, measures and targets to drive collaboration: It’s amazing how quickly people work collaboratively together on a shared goal.

Testing the process regularly helps people practice, refine and incrementally improve the decision over time. A periodic set of scenario-based workshops can improve the speed and quality of decisions, particularly collaborative cross-functional ones. These exercises help align the team on how to run the plays and refine the process to create better decisions and more value. Ultimately, they improve speed and efficiency.

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