Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Taking a Decision When Your Team Can't Agree

Last year, I wrote a series of blog entries on the value of a diverse team.  In fact I made eight entries on this subject....more than any other single subject I've written about.  That emphasis reflects how important mastering diversity is to the leader of global teams.  If you are interested in reviewing those entries you can find them at entries on 23, 26, 27 and 28 March and 10,11,12 and 16 April of 2012.

Inevitably there will be times when a diverse team is unable to arrive at a consensus.  As I stated in the 16 April blog, sometimes the leader has to take a decision when is disagreement among the team.  Occasionally, a decision will reflect the majority view rather than consensus.  There are traps in the "majority rule" and "leader decides" worth discussing. A leader can find herself in a situation where the team is so divided that the the minority undermines the success of the decision.

Professor Ronald Peterson of the London Business School addressed this challenge in his article "When the Issues are intractable and your team divided."

Professor Peterson has found that "when leading a small group of people who are strongly divided, 'majority rule' (i.e., voting) leads to extremely poor outcomes"

In other words, voting in small groups as generally practiced does not respect the rights of the minority, so the losers of the vote are likely to actively undermine majority decisions.

One of my approaches has been to be clear about who gets to decide. When it is obvious to the leader all the issues, points of view and alternatives have been explored, the leader takes the decision.  Dr. Peterson suggests this is the second best approach:

 "When a leader is perceived as legitimate – either because they are individually trusted, or because they have been duly elected, etc., then that leader takes the responsibility for the decision and if things turn out well they will be vindicated, and if things turn out poorly, the anger is directed at the individual leader, preserving the group, organisation, or system from the anger"

His preferred approach is to come to a qualified consensus.  Is there and alternative that "everyone can live with even if it is not their first choice?"

When leading a well constructed diverse team, disagreement is inevitable....and a good thing...it sharpens everyone's thinking.  That said, the leader of a global team must have a range of tools in the kit to take a decision when the group disagrees and is stuck.


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