Decision-making on startup teams presents no shortage of potential pitfalls. Decisions may take forever to make. Or team members grow frustrated when they are left out of the process of making a decision. Or decisions are made but not executed and then get revisited. Sound familiar?
Decision-making problems often result from a lack of clarity around roles, particularly if your team is larger than just you and a co-founder. Perhaps everyone on the team thinks they’re a decision-maker. Or no one really knows who has authority and who doesn’t for financial matters versus product issues versus marketing decisions.
One effective approach for addressing these challenges rests on the following assumptions about decision-making:
- Involvement of multiple people in making a decision helps gain buy-in, but if everyone tries to be ‘the decider,’ nothing gets done.
- Gaining enough agreement to move forward effectively is a more practical goal than unanimous agreement.
- Involvement in decision-making should not be a binary choice: either someone is making the decision or they’re left in the dark.
- Team members can play a variety of decision-making roles: someone should ensure the decision gets made (call her the “driver”); others simply need to be “informed” of a decision and its rationale, perhaps because they will need to implement it; others should be “consulted” because of their expertise and/or experience, even though they don’t have the authority to vote; and finally some must have a voice in actually “negotiating” or making the decision, including a select few who have veto authority.
Clarifying decision-making roles can prevent the frustration that often results when people expect to make a decision and aren’t consulted; or when a team member provides input and then becomes disappointed when the decision is not the one they recommended. The first step for clarifying decision-making roles is to identify significant, recurring decisions likely to require involvement from multiple people. Think about decisions, for example, on hiring, partnerships, investment, customer acquisition, pivoting, and major purchases. We’ve segmented our decisions into just three main categories: development (i.e. deciding on priorities for new features), design, and business.
What if everyone wants to be in the ‘Negotiate’ bucket for every decision? Remind team members of the responsibilities associated with that role. Getting a vote on SEO decisions, for example, might require participation in weekly SEO conference calls. People soon become comfortable deciding which decisions they just need to be informed about, which they should really provide input on, and which they actually need to help decide.
Clarifying decision-making roles also helps you decide who should be in meetings or on calls. Simply refer to your chart to determine who should be voting on the decisions expected to be made during the meeting and whose input should be collected prior to the discussion. Consider sharing the decision-making roles in a Google spreadsheet so that there is transparency across the team. The likely result is a more efficient process that leads to effective implementation of important decisions.
Joe Bubman is founder and CEO of Company Connector, which matches professionals with the best employers for them. He is also a negotiation and dispute resolution trainer and coach. For more on these ideas, contact the consulting firm Vantage Partners.
Image credit: CC by UK Ministry of Defence