Leaders must excel at collaborative decision making - Michelle Gibbings

In a complex, connected and ever-changing world the need for leaders to excel at collaborative decision making is more critical than ever. When leaders genuinely collaborate they open themselves up to different ideas and recognise that a better outcome will be achieved by securing input from a diverse range of stakeholders and having their ideas debated and tested.

My article about the importance of collaborative decision making in leadership first appeared on the HRM Online website – you can read it here.

In a complex, connected and ever-changing world the need for leaders to excel at collaborative decision making is more critical than ever.

Organisations are confronting the need to rapidly respond to changing market expectations and to take advantage of arising opportunities. Central to being equipped to successfully do this is knowing how and when to collaborate.

IBM’s 2016 Redefining Competition – The CEO perspective report highlighted that more than two-thirds of CEOs expect the traditional industry value chains to change into cross-industry ecosystems. It is these eco-systems which are expected to create new value, by enabling organisations to achieve more than they could do alone.

Such approaches require high levels of collaboration.

When leaders genuinely collaborate they open themselves up to different ideas. They also recognise that a better outcome will be achieved by securing input from a diverse range of stakeholders and having their ideas debated and tested.

This is important because humans are often more certain of their answers, beliefs, abilities and decisions than is warranted.

Genuine collaboration vs veneer collaboration

Research undertaken by the University of Southern California and London Business School (Power and over confident decision making) found there’s a correlation between over-confidence and how much power a person has.

The research found that the more power a person feels the more confident they are of the accuracy of their thoughts and beliefs. Their results indicated that power can harm performance on tasks that require careful deliberation and accuracy.

People who feel more powerful in an organisational setting are typically those in more senior leadership positions.

With genuine collaboration, as opposed to veneer collaboration, the leader is open to the fact that they don’t have all the answers. They are willing to listen to other perspectives and examine those contrasting perspectives to determine a way forward.

By ensuring ideas are robustly debated, this approach can help mitigate the potential for over-confidence to negatively impact the decision taken. The caveat is that the people involved in the discussion need to have diversity of thought. If they all draw from a similar background, it’s less likely that diversity will materialise.

As part of this process, the leader needs to create a culture where team members are willing to challenge or disagree with each other. Teams need to be able to robustly discuss and disagree as part of the decision making process.

This is about encouraging the team to engage in spirited conversations – rather than silent, shallow or stunted conversations that don’t advance the decision making process. These are not aggressive conversations where one person dominates.

Spirited conversations create energy, spark new ideas, help people think more clearly about the position they hold, and open the room to different perspectives. It’s about each person sharing their thoughts in the spirit of achieving a better and more robust decision.

Collaborative decision making can help the group focus their intent so it is not so much about winning the argument, but about finding the best solution.

When this happens it builds trust and buy-in, which is crucial element of strong and healthy group dynamics.

Collaboration is best done with clear purpose and intent. This includes being time bound and specific. For example, determining at which points in the decision making process that collaboration will add value, and where is it redundant.

If leaders over-collaborate the run the risk of either never get anything done or taking too long to make a decision on time sensitive issues.

It was the esteemed management guru, Peter Drucker, who said: “Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level”.