Decision Making Types


Many executives struggle with how to best make decisions. At several levels from strategic planning to tactical implementation they wonder if and when team members (or the company at large) should be included in the decision. The executives ask, "When should we include the employees?" and, "Do we keep this at the executive level or do we need consensus from our people?" I’m sure there are other questions as well.

My good friend and co-author, Ron Potter has put together a tool to help all of us make higher quality decisions. Essentially Ron divides the field into four decision making types:

   Individual/Unilateral — when the leader makes the decision
    Consultative — when the decision is made after input from all group members
    Consensus — When group members agree that all will support
    Unanimous — When all members are in absolute agreement

Each type has advantages and disadvantages but I won’t spend my or your time there. What is important to any manager or executive is when to use each of the types.

Unilateral decision making should be employed when:

  • Time is tight
  • Trust is in place
  • Teamwork is not necessary
  • Importance is low
  • When compliance is needed

Thus, unilateral is used when a person’s expertise far exceeds that of others or when a decision contrary to team member’s interests (at least what they know today) must be made. Parents use unilateral decision making when Johnny or Jane want to run across I-40. There is no time to discuss this and compliance is necessary RIGHT NOW.

Consensus should be used when:

  • Time is adequate
  • Trust is a high need
  • Teamwork is essential
  • Importance is high
  • For acceptance or commitment you need buy-in

Consensus is used when group agreement is considered critical or when the cost of making less than the best decision is exceptionally high. Consensus is used when discussing strategic, safety or survival issues — when you need the best thinking possible.

Consultative splits the difference between the consensus and unilateral types. It’s used when you need the advantage of different ideas, but not time for consensus. It is used when speed and quality of decisions are critical and when the leader wants input, but also wants to retain control.

Finally, Unanimous is best left for Jury Duty.

So what does this mean? It means that you as a leader have some options for good decision making and you can exercise those options before you go into decision-making mode. It also means that you should take the time to communicate, up front, to your team which mode you are operating within so you are managing their expectations. If you are in unilateral mode (for good reasons) then let your team members know it so they don’t expect involvement. If you’re seeking consensus, let them know it so you’ll get the input you need. Never assume they understand which mode you are working in. Too many organizations do not set up these expectations and the employee’s drift into consensus/unanimous mode, then when they are not consulted, organizational trust hits an all time low and so does morale.

We all make decisions every day. We need to focus on quality decisions, not quantity (or quick decision if time is not a factor). One way to help us do this is to understand and communicate the decision types.


One Response to “Decision Making Types”

  1. […] This assumes, of course, that we all know how to make decisions which may be an inaccurate starting point. So here are thoughts on how to break out the decision making process in an organization; these are based on Michael Watkins’ book “The First 90 Days,” and explained briefly by Wayne Hastings at: […]

Leave a Reply

  • Search

Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

©2014 Wayne Hastings. All Rights Reserved. Site by Birdsong Creative.