When should a leader make a decision and when should they go to their team for a decision?

By Steve Zuieback · Posted Thursday, July 18, 2013

This is one of the most frequent dilemmas faced by a leader. It calls into question the leader’s most basic philosophy, beliefs and style. Without diving into all of these underlying issues, Ralph Stacey has provided us with an objective model to answer this question. To see an entire video that goes into depth about the model and how to apply the model into the day-to-day practices of a team, click here.

 The Stacey model is used to explain many dynamics about systems and can be applied to decision-making. As you can see from the graphic there are two dimensions that can be assessed against a given issue, question or strategy.  The vertical axis is the level of agreement that already exists and the horizontal axis is the level of certainty about an answer or direction that will delivery the desired results.

 Bottom Left Hand Corner – Just Make the Decision

Issues that have a high degree of both agreement and certainty fall in the bottom left hand corner of the model can be called ordinary management. These are areas that a leader, in service of the team and system, should just make the decision. It doesn’t preclude some level of input or assistance from a few people. They are not issues that should take up the precious time of the whole team.

 Chaos – If Urgent, Make the Decision

Issues that fall far from agreement and certainty fall in the area of chaos. This may indicate many things, but it certainly indicates that the team is not ready to make the decision and would likely spin around and around if forced to make the decision. In these situations, if the issue is important and urgent, the leader is better off making the decision. Again they may choose to get input or assistance from a few of the team members.

 Extraordinary Leadership and Management – Team Decision

When the issue, question or strategy falls in the middle ground, this is a golden opportunity for whole team or organization involvement and decision-making. The conversations that are involved, if facilitated effectively, will lead to greater shared understanding and meaning, commitment and ownership.

 Suggested Process To Use With Your Team

 Watch the video for more detailed explanation of the steps. To apply the model to your team follow these steps:

  1. Do a short explanation of the Ralph Stacey model with your entire team. Feel free to use the video for this purpose.
  2. Break your team into small groups of 6-8 people each. Each team identifies those issues that they think the team should discuss over the next period of time (3 months, 6 months, academic year, etc.) that fall into the Extraordinary Leadership domain.
  3. Groups share their findings. There will be lots of overlap. The whole group is asked the question, “how many of these priorities can we tackle within our timeframe?”
  4. The group is then asked to further refine the priorities down to the number that identified by the whole group. This can be accomplished by having the group prioritize using two considerations – what is most important and needs to come first.
  5. These top priorities and their sequence becomes the sequenced agenda for the team.
  6. For the other priorities that are still important, the leader can request some assistance from volunteers and can make these decisions without the involvement of the whole group. 

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