Deciding How to Decide

It was my first meeting with this team. We’d been talking about what to do next for forty-five minutes. The discussion bounced around several times, while two team mates with strong opinions dominated the conversation. I had trouble getting a word in edgewise. Then all of a sudden the leader said “OK, it sounds like we should try out John’s suggestion,” and moved on to the next item.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I found myself thinking “What just happened!? Was that a decision? I thought we were going to vote!” I felt confused, disrespected and devalued.

Professional, casual, and familial groups alike can benefit from being clear on how a decision will be made. Realizing there are many choices in how decisions are made is the first step.


  • Coin Flip

  • Person in Charge decides without discussion

  • Person in Charge decides after discussion

  • Majority Vote

  • Agreement or Consensus

  • Delegation (someone else decides or chooses one of these methods)

(These are from Sam Kaner’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making)

Each of these methods of decision making have pros and cons. Each has an impact on the culture of the group making the decision, when used routinely. Each has a place and a time to be used and it’s beneficial to learn how to better use each one.

Consider the stakes, the importance, and the long term impact of the situation. Let those factors guide you into determining how much input is needed from others and the level of agreement or buy-in needed to make the implementation of that decision successful.

Choosing which photo you send to the person picking you up at the airport is a low stakes decision, flip a coin should be fine. However, deciding to start a new project in a new location has long term implications on the whole team, so consensus is ideal. Other decisions like the length of the team retreat, or the addition of another meeting may be served by one of the other methods, being neither low nor high stakes decisions.

Photo by  Akhil Chandran  on  Unsplash

Photo by Akhil Chandran on Unsplash

While learning how to skillfully use each method is always helpful, the most important step is to make sure everyone involved is aware of which one you will use. If you are the leader of your group, consider which procedure is most appropriate for the situation at hand.If you are not the leader of the group, take initiative regardless and ask early in the process how the choice will be made.

Many of our choices have a long term influence on the future of our work and the outcomes we desire. Learning how to maximize their impact begins with deciding how you will decide.