Safer Decisions Slower

I am a fan of collaboration. I am confident that participatory planning can reduce blind spots and build buy-in.

But I’ve had a couple of recent experiences in my practice that have left me wondering if that insight and engagement have come at the expense of courage and efficiency.

In some ways this is not surprising. Most people would say that involving too many people in decision-making slows things down, and many would say that it also leads to “lowest common denominator” thinking.

I’ve resisted the first part of this assertion. I’ve argued that establishing clear decision rights and decision-making processes can mitigate some of the risks. That well-facilitated processes are an efficient use of time. That the upsides are worth the potential downsides. That we need to go slowly at the beginning to go quickly at the end.

But my experience lately is making me question the second part. Does participatory decision-making too often lead to bland, safe decisions?

I’m learning that boldness might need to be inserted as an explicit decision-making criterion. Otherwise, even when it is clear who makes the final decision, that person or group might be tempted to lean toward options that have been frequently repeated within the feedback. Common answers may be popular, but they may not necessarily be wise, particularly in rapidly changing, crowded contexts where status quo thinking and predictable approaches are likely to make your work irrelevant or obsolete. Exciting, creative, edgy responses are rarely the ones mentioned most often.

But I’m also not convinced that stating the need to be bold is not enough to make us bold. When it comes to choosing to listen to the outliers, leaders need to lead.

I’d love to hear your ideas about specifically what needs to be true in order for collaborative planning to lead to innovation rather than status quo or stagnation.

3 Replies to “Safer Decisions Slower”

  1. Oh my, Rebecca. This is great insight. I believe that for participatory decision-making to be bold, the voices need to be diverse. If leaders can be explicit about stating that voices advocating status quo (or incremental change) will not be given more weight than voices advocating bold actions, there is a better chance that the diverse voices will be heard. This is where the ‘best practice’ facilitation of not inserting oneself can be detrimental to the organization. The facilitator can see when status quo voices are being weighed too heavily by the group. Not pointing it out is doing the organization a disservice.

  2. “The level of collective courage in an organization is the absolute best predictor of that organization’s ability to be successful in terms of its culture, to develop leaders, and to meet its mission.” (Brene Brown — Dare to Lead – p.271)

  3. I love this blog post…yours are all so good, but this one is especially needed.

    A thought – I think that we need to have a base of trust in order to cultivate a boldness culture. Instead of just being a criteria (which isn’t a bad place to start), people need to know that it is safe to be innovative and to take risks. Sometimes I also ask the question, “If we were starting from scratch today, how would we do it?” Then I look for ways to connect where we are now to where we need to be.

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