Your Slow Decisions Are Frustrating Your Team

By Keeley Hammond written about 5 months ago

It's 8:00 am. You're in a weekly meeting with your accounts department. Your new and promising junior accounts person, who built a close relationship with your client, wants to send a free gift for their upcoming trade show. The discussion loops for 40 minutes - finally, your VP tells the accounts person that he'll talk with the marketing team and will get back to her next week.

You empower an employee on your team to make a decision on a new product feature. He gathers input from designers, developers and clients, but all three groups can't agree on what feature would be best. Your employee is confused. Exasperated, you take the decision back and figure it out yourself.

Your sales and marketing team sits in your monthly forecasting meeting. Your marketing lead suggests creating an email template that aggregates all of your monthly content. Your salespeople go back and forth about the look of that email, finally deciding that you'll need a series of meetings with your creative director to get his input. Your marketing lead, sitting fuming, finally explodes:

"Guys, if we can't make an email template without getting a VP in the room, we've got a big problem."

"Make a damn decision, already."

Every single one of us has been stymied or frustrated by slow decision-making. From the executive team to the front desk, one of the most common complaints I hear from also every company I work with is speed. Companies, in general, move too slowly.

Curious as to how widespread this was, I did a deeply scientific Twitter poll with my friends, asking the following:


The stories I got back were incredible (names have been changed to titles to protect the innocent and the guilty):

We had to make a decision to move servers. Two senior managers both thought they were the decision makers. Neither could agree. It ended up being a clash of egos and we're still suffering client downtime on old servers because of it. - Software Engineer

Design is really subjective, so any time the design team wanted to make a change to our product, we had to hear 50 different senior opinions on if it was good or bad. By the time it came to launch, we were either behind, over-budget or had created this weak and uninspiring "compromise" creative. I left my original company because of it; they went under last year. - Senior Graphic Designer

We knew from the outset of making our game that we wanted to have a certain feature in it. So we built a prototype two years ago. Then we realized we didn't have time to finish the [feature] and we weren't sure it was quite right because of feedback internally and externally. So we kept one person working on it for a year, alone, to try a few ideas. We finally hit a point where we had to make a decision - so we threw people at it, and made bad ones. We've been furiously trying to correct them while building the feature for real. - Game Development Head

The decision makers didn't understand the clients, so everything would move from person to person to avoid a decision and therefore anyone taking responsibility. Eventually it would be too late and I'd give up. PR moves fast and has deadlines - lost many opportunities for press. - PR Manager

Every one of us have these stories - stories of corporate decision-making being a painfully slow or inefficient process. Any of the stories above, with tweaks to the specifics, could apply to 90% of companies. I'm sure that you, reader, have some ugly stories of your own.

In all of the stories that I heard, bad decision-making processes seemed to have at least one of these three qualities:

It's Slow: Afraid of being wrong, colleagues will stall and stall until the right decision becomes obvious (often too late).
It's Unclear: Decisions are being made by committee or multiple people, with no clear single-point decision-maker.
It's Undercut by Leadership: Leaders within the organization are uneasy about others making big decisions - so they make them all themselves.

The irony of this is that many of the organizations that have the biggest problem with slow decision-making are the ones with the strongest cultures. Companies with collegial cultures - cultures that prize relationships and people - will often sacrifice speed and edge on the altar of buy-in.

So what can we do? No one likes the process or even the results of this kind of decision-making. Leadership is stymied by it. Employees are frustrated by it. Clients are inconvenienced by it. So, why haven't we changed it?

So How Can You Make Faster Decisions?

Ask yourself the three questions below:

  1. When was the last time an employee in your company made a decision that his or her supervisor disagreed with?
  2. How do you feel about 50% of your team disagreeing with the decision that you've made?
  3. Would you rather be always fast and sometimes wrong, or always right and often slow? Are you so afraid to be wrong that you end up being slow?

How did you answer those questions? Are you really comfortable with different opinions, or do you crave consensus? Be honest - think about the last time you truly empowered someone on your team to make an informed decision and let them move forward with something that you didn't agree with.

Effective execution of empowered decision-making is difficult- it can be hard to remove your own power from the decision. However, it can also lead to faster and superior results. Practiced well, companies are more empowered by distributed decision-making. A supportive culture promotes expression of diverse opinions, without tainting individuals for having advocated less popular positions.

When you trust people to make good decisions, and support them in that process... they tend to make the right call.

Want to learn more about effective and empowered decision-making? I helped develop our company's curriculum! Give me a call at 503-789-1338 or read our white paper here.