How To Correct The Biggest Myth in Leadership

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Teams don’t make decisions. The idea that there is such thing as a “team decision” is one of the biggest myths in leadership.

And correcting that myth could represent a significant leadership breakthrough.

Teams don’t make decisions. Individuals make decisions. Every decision must have someone’s name written next to it.

Someone must own the outcome. Someone must pace around thinking through every ramification and potential hurdle.

In his Harvard Business Review blog postIf You Think Your Team Makes Decisions, Think Again, Bob Frisch wrote, “Executive teams may discuss issues, debate courses of action, and even give their stamps of approval, but they actually don’t decide anything of moment as a group… It is the leader, not the group, who ultimately allows that particular decision to go through.”

So, if your goal is great decisions how should you work with your team?

1.  Start by clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations.

Instead of saying, “Team, we have a decision to make today,” it should be, “Team, I have a decision to make today, (or “Susan has a decision to make today”) and your help is required.”

2.   Set the decision-maker up for success.

If you have given Susan the responsibility for a decision, you must also confer on her the authority to make that decision. Let the team know that it’s her call. And it’s her responsibility to ensure its success.

3.   Coach the team in how to support the decision.

Individual members of the team may, or may not, agree with the decision reached by you or Susan. Your job becomes coaching the team on how to support that decision even when they disagree.

One of the key members of our team will regularly consult with me when I’ve made a tough decision. If he doesn’t agree with me he will always say, “Scott, I see this differently. But I will support you 100%.”

If you allow the team-decision myth to live on, your risk losing accountability and ownership for that decision. Follow through can become sporadic and momentum can be easily lost.

Always make sure that every decision has a name written next to it. Make sure it is clear who has the responsibility and authority to make a call, and coach your team toward honest feedback and support of decisions made.

Because teams don’t make decisions.

Individuals make decisions.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Willow Creek Association. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave & Willow and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

5 comments

  1. I agree but how would you apply this in a congregation where they value democratic process? )Congregations that eschew one person making a decision for the group.)

  2. I suppose what a congregation is really doing in this case is not so much making a decision as much as they are ratifying a decision. In other words they are putting their stamp of approval (or disapproval) on a decision made by someone else. In the end, that person (who made the decision, ratified by the congregation) is still the decision-maker, not the congregation.

  3. That’s gold Scott. Having sat under liberating leadership, it certainly makes a difference to be able to have contrary opinions shared, but the empowerment’s to ultimately make a decision and know we move forward together regardless of the success or failure of the decision.

  4. Thanks Dan. As mentioned in my 3rd point, it is vital that the team understand that they may fully express dissenting opinions within the discussion leading up to the decision, but once the decision is made, they may not undermine that decision by opposing it after the fact. It’s a mark of leadership character to fully support a decision with which one may not have agreed.

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