How to Grow Decisiveness in Your Team

People who are reluctant to make decisions have been conditioned to behave that way.

If you want these folks to make decisions, you'll have to overcome their ingrained fears & incentives.

There are no shortcuts. However, I'd like to share a few things that have worked in growing decisiveness in teams of which I've been a member. 

1. Discuss the relationship between available/perceived discretionary time & accuracy/reasonableness of the decision. These are two (2) different characteristics of a decision. Time relates to urgency. Basically, how much time do we have to consider the situation and options? Accuracy relates to how correct, while acknowledging that few options are as objective as answers to a math test.

2. Reward decisiveness, even potentially more than the quality of the decision. This is especially true if the situation is complicated, novel, complex, dynamic, or uncertain. Also, criticize or penalize (tactfully, of course) indecision. Make being wrong less painful than avoiding a decision. 

3. Do not allow "Boss, what should I do?" conversations. Demand that your people's requests for your guidance come in the form of:
  1. my perceived situation,
  2. what I want to do,
  3. what I've decided against.
While this form still seeks confirmation, it's better than blindly asking what to do. It allows you to see their thinking, considering, weighing, alternatives, and sense-making. This might open additional opportunities for education, simulations, or training. 

4. If you override a subordinate's decision, you must explain why. Allow them to see your thinking, considering, weighing, alternatives, and sense-making. Let them experience, through your contemplation. You may give them decision factors they never considered. {NOTE: This takes time!}

5. Learn how to effectively:
  • debrief,
  • give feedback,
  • play if-then scenarios,
  • coach decisions,
  • do case studies,
  • administer decision-games,
  • run an After Action Report (AAR). 
Feedback is critical. How that feedback is given or solicited is vitally important to how it's received and ultimately used to grow. The best feedback is that which comes from the actors themselves.

6. Learn about the environments from where your subordinates came.
  • Micro-managed team?
  • Harshly disciplined or criticized team?
  • Expectation for permission from authority?
  • Highly analytical / objective answer environment (maths; sciences; AI; data)
Learn why they might lack decisiveness. What in their past has conditioned them to be reluctant?

7. Commit to the investment in your people. If not, you'll be their crutch for a very long time. If you don't think you have the time to make that investment, you better make time to hold their hands through any moment of uncertainty or risk. It's pretty much one (1) or the other! Think if you had not taught and painfully watched your kids struggle while tying their own shoelaces; you'd still be doing it for them.

8. You must be willing to sacrifice yourself. Your job as boss is to absorb the hell and damnation that comes down from above when your people screw up. You must protect them. If too vulnerable, they will shut down and shove decisions (and responsibility) back to you. Take the heat.

This is about reconditioning your people and the way they view the responsibility and risk that goes with making decisions. Seize your position to help shape and influence a new environment for them to thrive and grow. With a bit of investment, your people will move towards a culture that takes joy in  taking responsibility!


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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