The Straight Truth


The Problem with “Shared Decision Making.”

The word “shared” in an activity that requires personal accountability and ownership for results without fault, blame or guilt causes a problem. “Let’s share the decision making on this.” How about let’s not!

“Let’s share the decision making on this.”

Nine times out of ten what is really meant is, “Let’s come to consensus on the decision.” If you ever hear “let’s share” and “decision making” in the same sentence it had better be a mature group of people who understand consensus is not agreement. Consensus is agreement to support the decision outside of the room.

Consensus is not agreement.

Consensus is agreement to support the agreement outside the room.

So what do you mean when you say “shared decision making”? Be clear and be ready to understand that with some of the groups you work with, “sharing the decision making” is the last thing you need to be doing and the last thing the group needs. Here’s why.

If shared decision making actually means Consensus then you must have the following in place for consensus decision making to work effectively:

  1. We understand this is a consensus
  2. Once we have had the discussion, input, disagreement, etc. to include the minority opinion as much as is possible we will come to a consensus on the decision.
  3. No one discusses who said what outside the room.
  4. We leave with the exact same articulation of the decision to our departments (in writing).
  5. We agree to support the decision outside the room.

Absent these 5 agreements, you will get meetings-after-the-meeting, a lack of ownership for the decision if anyone dissented and did not get their way, miscommunication of the decision down through the organization, no accountability for taking implementation of the decision off-track. You will also find the group discussing the issue for which “we thought a decision was made” discussing it again as someone brings it up (again) because they didn’t like the decision.

Most leadership “teams” with a high level of personal accountability work in a “shared decision making” model because they make and keep agreements with each other, don’t hold meetings after the meeting, saying what they need to in the room, and hold each other accountable to alignment, communication and trust. High-performance leadership teams disagree in the room but don’t take it any further than that. It’s healthy conflict and requires maturity to avoid “hostage taking” to get one’s way. This is why there are so few “real” leadership teams. Power is position and control on the part of leaders on “the team” and these individuals have no interest in “sharing” decision making let alone holding others accountable for not keeping to the consensus.

To be effective in decision making be clear what decision making process you are using.

Executive decision making – I make the decision and I will tell you what it is

Input decision making – I want to hear from you, then I will tell you what the decision is (sometimes input decision making is fake; a decision is already made but “input” makes people ‘feel included’ – this usually backfires)

Democratic decision making – We’ll vote and majority will rule

Consensus decision making – We will make the decision usually after some healthy conflict

Shared decision making – I’d stay away from this term if I were you.

In most cases the group lacks the maturity and personal accountability level for “shared decision making.” Disappointing, I know, but face the truth. It’s not bad or wrong, it is just true that unless a group holds the level of personal accountability needed for consensus decision making, you will flounder time and time again on alignment, communication and trust to make decisions and execute on them as a leadership TEAM.

Leaders, here is my advice to you, build the capacity for consensus decision making or make decisions and hold people accountable to carry them out. We delude ourselves thinking, “If they have a ‘share’ in this decision they will own and go along with what the decision is.” Wrong. They will share the part that works, that other part is your share!