Five Decision Making Traps

Meetings are the mainstay of corporate of America. After all, if we actually spent our time doing productive things instead of meeting, we'd run out of things to do which isn't particular good for our job security. All kidding aside, I'm bringing up the topic of meetings because it makes for a good segue in to a discussion about how decisions are made.

Here's a look at some of the decision making traps that you're likely to encounter. The names are real, but the situations are fictional.

1. The “Plop”

One individual expresses a suggestion or opinion. The group ignores it.

Example: In a meeting, a team member suggests creating an internal newsletter to increase sagging morale. No one comments and the discussion moves to other issues.

Disadvantages: Creative solutions, or ideas with even a little merit, will be missed. The person being “plopped” may be discouraged and stop offering ideas. I've been there way too many times. The worst is when the same idea is pitched by another person and miraculously sparks interest.

2. The Self-Authorized Decision

One individual expresses the decision and the group concedes without further consideration of it or of other ideas. Dominant individuals often use this method to move things to closure.

Example: One team member says, “Since no one else has any ideas, I'm going to call the client and tell him he'd better start giving us some reasonable deadlines, or else.”

Disadvantages: Does not respect ideas or interests of other team members. I've been in these sorts of meetings too. In my case, the meeting included a particularly technical person. He knew a lot, there's no doubt about it. But he was also the biggest baby I had ever met. It was often easier to agree than to have him sulk.

3. The Handclasp

One individual expresses the decision and a second runs with it. This is a common way to push things through.

Example: “You know, Gerald is right. I'm not going to put up with these deadlines either. I'll back up your call with a little call of my own. Maybe then he'll start getting the message.”

Disadvantages: Does not respect the ideas or interests of other team members. May be divisive and cause factions within the team. I'm impressed with this one despite it's subterfuge. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm been taken in by this approach many times and didn't even know it.

4. The Trade-Off

A team member suggests, “I'll agree with your decision if you'll support my proposal.”

Example: “Okay, I'll support your nasty telephone campaign. But you have to back me up when I present my budget projections to the corporate office.”

Disadvantages: Decisions are made via compromise, based on personal interests. True merits and weaknesses of ideas are not taken into account. Does not foster a team mindset. Teams won't last long with this kind of activity. It may have worked on Survivor, but should be avoided in corporations.

5. Arithmetic Averaging

For decisions requiring quantitative solutions, an average is taken of the possible solutions.

Example: “Anna thinks we should allot $10,000 to research. I think we should just give it $2,000. Jeff thinks we shouldn't give it anything. $10,000 plus $2,000 plus zero divided by three is $4,000. So that'll be our budget for research.”

Disadvantages: Does not respect the ideas or interests of other team members. True merits and weaknesses of ideas are not taken into account. This kind of thinking is silly. As if it somehow makes sense to do 2 mediocre jobs rather than 1 really good one.

Note: This post was inspired by web-based management-training materials research by Dan Michel of IBM.

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