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Every Decision Ever
and the root of all organizational dysfunction
One of my favorite things about my tenure at Twitter was the culture of learning - the company invested technology, budget, and, most importantly, time into sharing ideas and practices to up-level the entire company. I picked up many a mental model in my time there.
This Tweet reminded me of one of the speakers (can’t remember his name / find his work online) we had at our annual leadership gathering one year
The central thesis of our guest’s talk was simple:
decision-making is the root cause of all dysfunctions affecting an organization
He laid out a model for decision-making that still sticks with me, and I find it very useful in terms of framing, communicating, and aligning. There are fundamentally 3 types of decisions:
Type 1 - solo-driven
Type 2 - input-driven
Type 3 - collab-driven
Type 1 decisions are top-down. Someone with authority / autonomy to make a call just makes it. They have all the context needed to make the decision. They’ve deemed debate on the decision unnecessary. The cognitive load to others is not worth it. The decision might be so simple that it’s quicker this way. All anyone needs to know is the decision has been made. (I know this sounds un-collaborative, that’s exactly the point).
choosing whether to do a team strategy offsite (decider knows it’s overdue)
pre-announcing a feature to the market (decider knows PR vs. pressure tradeoff)
Type 2 decisions are plug-n-play. The person on point to make the decision needs a bit of info that someone else can / should provide, so they get it and move on. There is some context provided on the request for info, but there’s not a whole lot of debate or lobbying. What folks need to know is their input will move the decision forward, but the decision is not theirs. (I know this sounds transactional, that’s exactly the point).
making a hiring decision on a candidate (decider needs interview feedback)
picking a restaurant for a team lunch (decider needs dietary restrictions)
Type 3 decisions are chime-in. The person on point needs not only input, but subject matter expertise, across a variety of functions, to even position the decision. In fact, there might not even be a clear decider, and that might be the first order of business for a working group. What everyone needs to know is while there eventually needs to be a decision, deliberation and debate are worth the time investment. (I know this sounds open-ended, that’s exactly the point).
investing in a new product line (market dynamics, competitors analysis, etc)
rolling back a change for service outage (root cause, customer impact, etc)
So how does this help?
dysfunction arises when the maker of the decision and the consumers of the decision are not on the same page on decision type
Think about it. A team argues that an offsite will be “time away from work” while the manager knows that the team is spending time on low-leverage activities and needs a reset. An interview panelist lobbies to hire (or not hire) a candidate based on their amazing (terrible) 1 hour with the candidate, not realizing that the hiring manager has a 360 view across 8 hours of candidate feedback. A leader gets a group together to brainstorm ideas on how to tackle a new initiative and folks hesitate to speak up, waiting to hear a direction from the leader, not realizing the on-the-ground viewpoint they have is what the leader needs to hear.
So how can you apply this in practice, both as a decision-maker and decision-consumer?
start with clarity on who the decider is (and why)
frame decisions as type 1, 2, or 3 to pre-align folks
set context based on type 1 (little), 2 (more), or 3 (total)
Would love to hear from readers on their decision dysfunctions and whether this helps…
further reading / references
the DACI framework (we use it at Box) helps with groups
decision-making tends to be a hot topic as companies scale
Amazon has a nice 1-way vs 2-way door analogy they use
eigenquestions are a way to re-frame non-obvious decisions
childish drawing / interpretation