Five Types of Decision Processes Determining Your Team’s Future

by Patty Shull and David Finn

Patty Shull is a Fortune 500 Leadership Mentor and Small Business Consultant.
David Finn is the Health IT Officer at Symantec, a recovering CIO, and
previously COO at a major health care consultancy.


Which of these decision processes (the 5 “C’s”) are determining your team’s outcomes — coercion, collision, consensus, compromise, or collaboration?  All 5 types of decision-making are needed when leading people. Knowing how and when to use these 5 decision-making processes is a key to becoming a top-performing leader and team member.

In leadership the trick is to be awake to what decision process is called for in a particular set of circumstances. If you fail to listen for, distinguish, and respond appropriately to these 5 “C” processes, you can end up with a sixth “C” – Chaos. Chaos occurs when you throw the other “C” processes in the blender, set the timer for 60 minutes, and wait to see what flies out when you lift the lid mid-puree. And given that you’ve just taken the lid off the blender, the mess will be splattered all over you.

Why increase your competency in leading decision-making processes?
One word: Leverage.

Payroll (or profitable volunteer time for non-profit organizations) is an organization’s greatest expense, but only top leaders have trained in how to leverage people investments of time and intelligence. Top leaders and team members are able to direct the conversation among the 5 decision-making processes because they understand the cost/value proposition of each one. Here’s how doing so will create leverage:

  • For organization and team leaders – leverage more labor capability from those you lead to gain the human potential advantage, consistently.
  • For team members – observe how your team is making decisions and name it. Assist your peers in moving toward better results and become the 5 “C” MVP.
  • For individuals – become the CEO of your own life. Assess how you are participating in decision making and how it impacts your brand (remember: you are your brand.)

Will increasing your competency and gaining this leverage enhance your bottom-line profit (and prophet-ability)?

Heck YES!  Lyle Spencer, in his book Competence at Work, showed that top performers can out-distance average performers by 70% in complex jobs. This assumes the work environment supports high-performance versus discouraging it. Also, a 10-year McKinsey and Co. study on “flow” and productivity found top executives are 500% more productive when “in flow.”  “Flow” – a state of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment – is what we call working in the Zone.

How do we lead decision making processes where this outcome potential can be leveraged and maintained?  One way is to wake up to the 5 “C” decision types.

Coercive decision-making

“It’s my way or the dark scary subway.” People are demeaned to go along with the authority in the room for fear of negative consequences. You will get the least amount of performance leverage from being coercive unless there is a legitimate emergency or need to create immediate compliance. In an urgent or emergency situation you will earn respect for coordinating effective action ASAP as long as everyone understands the concern driving the directive or coercive leadership decision. Outside of an emergency situation, a coercive power monger is interpreted as being a bully.

Upside of coercion or making demands? It can be a useful decision process choice when immediate compliance forwards the team’s objectives, which in turn benefits the organization and its members. Examples include: maintaining safety procedures, keeping work flows constant for mission-essential projects, or cutting spending to stay afloat. Key: Explain why immediate compliance is required so that your grandmother could understand your actions (and bake you cookies for doing a great job.)  Ensure people know why you are making demands.

Downside? Coercion or demands feel personal to others if not used properly and seem that you are operating from EGO (Edging-Greatness-Out.) When used consistently and from one’s personal agenda, this decision style arouses defensiveness and even desire to get revenge. Revenge can look like taking office supplies home, goofing off, misfiled documents, jams in the copy machine on the executive floor, or worse, lawsuits. Revenge may have great entertainment value in the movie 9 to 5. In real life, not so funny.

Collision decision-making

The refreshing part of collision is that you know what you are dealing with — red faces, people arguing to be right, tension and swearing are all up and in your face. You have just given your life, money and time away, unless you get value from an expensive drama.

Upside? People are passionate about arguing their positions and desired outcomes; so, they speak up. High vocals are better than people who have mentally “quit but stayed” on the payroll . . . and far better than having people who have great ideas but are withholding them in silence. In collision, people are often authentic (one characteristic of being in the Zone.) Collision is when two or more concerns in the room oppose one another, and no one is curious to hear the diverse opinions. Unfortunately, the collision conversation often gets personal instead of focused on the common objective or mission. If you can’t stop the collision from becoming personal, bring in a facilitator or raise the honesty flag and say, “Our team is in breakdown. Let’s stop until we refocus on our common goal.”

Downside?  A team will experience work delays and work stoppages while you continue to withdraw from the emotional checking account of your bruised staff. Worse yet, personal conversations and sidebar coalitions that have nothing to do with innovative problem-solving begin to take over your group culture.

Compromise decision-making

Are you ready to wake up to this culturally-accepted miss-perception? Compromise means a person(s) has resigned to having their concern addressed or fulfilled to their standard of satisfaction. This translates to giving up on excellence for the individual and team. Compromise is often confused with collaboration.  Collaboration builds team commitment because people share, listen to learn, and then arrive at excellence out of a common desire for success.

With compromise, enthusiasm toward the future wanes in subtle or major ways. Chronic compromise produces mediocrity in the work group, an absence of passion and career satisfaction, especially in staff who thrive on doing their best.  Passion is what brings forth a magnetic brand that creates marketplace attraction. When compromise is repeatedly one-sided, people can begin to feel like they are being coerced or that they are incapable of impacting meaningful change.

Upside? It is fast. Many decisions simply do not require everyone’s full commitment or satisfaction toward a given outcome. In some situations, compromise is all that is needed to get everyone into action and produce a result. Examples may include when to hold the annual retreat, where to go to lunch, or which supplier to use. “Make a choice and move on,” is all that is said, and that is sufficient.

Downside? You won’t arouse high or sustainable commitment to the strategies you are deploying to win the gold. The ‘team spirit’ found in award-winning teams is missing, due to compromises on concerns that matter to individuals. This in turn creates a mood of mediocrity that customers often feel. The costliest leadership compromises in the workplace are not managing poor or below-average performers. High performers love high standards and excellence. That is what drives them, not chronic compromises when it matters. TIP: Discern compromise from collaboration. Leverage comes from a committed team culture.

Consensus decision-making

Ideally, consensus achieves group buy-in by getting all to agree (or commit) to a course of action. In practice it can be challenging to distinguish the consensus decision style because it has so many meanings to many people.  Consensus may look like “everyone agrees” when in reality people may be withholding what they really think, allowing a few people to dominate the conversation/decision while others may have “quit but stayed” in the meeting. “Quitting and staying” happens when people withdraw from offering their intelligence to the group, let others do the work, or “go along” with an outcome.  Consensus is not synonymous with commitment.  Too often people opt for being nice instead of real, and this produces the appearance of a consensus.  Reaching authentic commitment to a direction or goal is only possible when people speak their concerns and the “yes, I will” is sincere. (We call this collaboration, not consensus.)

Upside?  Consensus often places a high priority on the affiliation needs of the group ahead of task accomplishment.  This can be useful at times. When quality isn’t immediately needed, socializing among team members can be a much-deserved perk. Supporting a sick team member or reducing standards to include someone who has recently lost a loved one are great examples. A leader who values people and results usually rises to the top of the most-respected list.

Downside? Lost quality, time, money, intelligence, and engagement from your most important talent is the outcome when consensus is over used. When people’s concerns over task accomplishment can be included, go for it. Or, if you don’t need full-on group commitment to get to the finish line, consensus can work. But at the end of the day, people love to experience excellence. Excellence furthers dignity, a value often missing on average-performing teams.

Every employee or contractor has a 20% discretionary effort
toward task accomplishment at his/her disposal.

Dr. David McClelland, professor emeritus at Harvard University (also considered the Father of Human Motivation), documented this discretionary effort variable and prescribed increased leadership competency to tap into it.  If we as leaders translate that discretionary variable into labor hours, we see that the first 4 “C” decision-making processes could cost you an entire day when applied ineffectively.

And now for the Crown Jewel of decision process types that we find when observing top-performing teams…

Collaborative decision-making

Collaboration occurs when people enter into conversations of discovery and possibility, where people generate ideas and reach authentic commitment to a course of action (without predetermined responses). Less competent team members listen and learn, while experienced members offer effective ideas. The entire group is on the lookout for who has the most competency to guide the discussion toward the best solution. Seniority and status in the organization don’t drive the power in the room. Instead, effectiveness drives where the attention is aimed. Diverse thought is welcomed and heard within a non-personal context.

Over time, the group learns how to learn from each other and arrive at the best possible solution or next step. People agree and commit to decisions authentically, in anticipation that the discovery process will lead to victory. Dr. Fernando Flores says effective listening is the foundation of collaboration. Flores says, “Good listening attends to distinctions that draw out, draw upon or collect as rich as possible a deposit of skills and aptitudes in the other.” People are curious and genuinely care about the team’s performance.

How do you know if your decision-making processes are collaborative? People show up honestly and authentically without fear of making CLMs (Career Limiting Moves.) People may offer wild and crazy ideas to spur creativity, offer solutions from outside the culturally-correct box, or make jokes to add levity. When people are fearful of an idea, they say so. “Hey, that worries me and here is why.” The collaborative team is not dreading the next meeting. People are preparing for it instead.

Great collaboration looks like people listening to the person who has the highest competency in the room, and that person can surprise everyone. The highest competency resides in the person whose discourse addresses the greatest number of concerns leading to the fulfillment of the objective. This in turn creates a sense of relief for the group, a mood of anticipation, or both.

Top collaborative teams will move into the experience that runners call the Zone, where the experience of time disappears. Most importantly, people are hearing possibilities and learning from the conversations of others. Everyone leaves the meeting feeling smarter. It feels good to honestly hear and value what others are saying.  Collaboration fuels team dignity.

Upside? Top intelligence is running your business and people are creatively solving challenges. Energy is high and labor investments are producing 20% to 70% higher returns and more.  Your top talent love belonging to your organization and want to stay and cross the next finish line, over and over again.

Downside? Collaboration requires team leadership competency. How many leaders have learned skills from exemplary role models?  Most people haven’t had collaboration modeled for them and, therefore, cannot lead it consistently.  Team members must also be trained.  They will need to listen with curiosity to discover the concerns of others and respond authentically. Collaboration also means everyone is clear on a few measurable outcomes that matter most to the organization.

The authors are biased toward effective collaboration but never as a rule.

All 5 “C’s” have an upside and downside. Developing your flexibility to move between all 5 decision-making processes – as the situation requires –  will give you the most powerful and sustainable leadership effectiveness.  High levels of collaboration will take your team into the Zone, where productivity gains of 500% have been demonstrated.

Collaboration produces the most consistently effective and efficient outcomes with your team.  Through collaboration the team enters into authentic conversations where real commitment to outcomes are felt.  The excitement of playing from the Zone as a matter of routine, not happenstance. Excitement and commitment are the intrinsic feelings that propel you and others into the game of business (or any other game that you have joined together to play.)

May we hear from you? Comment on your own leadership team experience in decision-making.
What style(s) have worked for you and in what circumstances?
(Scroll to bottom of this page to leave your comments)


Human Motivation, by Dr. David McClelland
Conversations for Action and Collected Essays, by Dr. Fernando Flores
Ontological Mastership, Nathaniel Newby, Founder

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