7 Ways to Make Great Team Decisions (Plus 1 You May Want to Avoid)

Making team decisions with buy-in from every team member (even if they disagreed initially) is difficult in the best of times — and impossible in a team that lacks trust.

Making team decisions that involve the group and lead to excellent results can be tough, but the woman pictured, pointing to some ideas and showing her colleague what she thinks, understands why decision making is so crucial to success.

If you’ve reached the third level of the the pyramid of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, your team has the beginnings of a foundation built on vulnerability-based trust and is willing to engage in conflict around ideas, which means you have the makings of a great team…

But now some decisions have to be made. After all, the team’s purpose is taking action and getting things done.

Teams that engage in conflict around ideas are collaborating with each other. This means all ideas and opinions are put on the table to be passionately, openly, and fairly discussed. Decisions are forged from putting alternatives on the anvil and hammering them out, and everyone on the team has a part in that process.

Through discussion, team members move past the initial disagreement towards a decision that everyone can support.

7 Great Ways to Reach Effective Team Decisions

Let’s not fool ourselves: Reaching a team decision that everyone agrees with is a messy undertaking — and sometimes not possible. There isn’t some magical recipe that will result in everyone reaching perfect harmony. Do you even want that?

(If that happens, you may have a problem — find out why harmony may be costing your organization.)

Here are several suggestions for reaching clear, concise team decisions.

1. Reach Unanimous Team Decisions

This is the ideal situation where, after some discussion, everyone clearly sees one course of action as superior.

The individuals on the team look around and realize that everyone is collectively on the same page. Everyone can easily get on board with the confidence that the final verdict was a pure team decision.

Caution is needed in these cases — if too much compromise is required to reach a decision, you could wind up unanimously choosing a decision that, actually, nobody is happy about.

2. Solve Using Democratic Team Votes

This is widely known as “the majority rules.” The team has boiled down all the alternatives to two or three acceptable options, and the group leader has determined that a vote is the most expedient and most effective way to reach a final decision.

The democratic vote is an accepted way to reach a decision, and the losing side is usually able to accept that they have been heard, a different option has been chosen, and that they now need to rally behind the decision the majority has made.

The team can usually implement the team’s decision cooperatively after a democratic process, which is the major strength of this option.

3. Come to a Compromise

Many people are familiar with compromise. Team members on both sides of the issue are passionate, and neither side is willing to give in entirely. The question at hand is this: Where’s the overlap? Where do the needs of both sides come together?

If a compromise can be reached, both sides feel they have been heard, and, while the solution doesn’t provide either camp with everything they wanted, it is workable for everyone.

Most importantly, all members can continue to do their jobs and achieve team goals without a loss of unity.

4. Postpone a Decision

The team may very well determine that there isn’t enough information at present to reach their best decision.

More research may be needed, or there may be many questions that need to be answered before team members feel comfortable making an important decision.

The circumstances or environment surrounding a decision may be in a period of fluctuation or change, and waiting to act could be the most logical course of action.

5. Decide to Not Decide

There are no absolutes. No matter how many actionable alternatives have been presented, there is always one more alternative — to say, “No, we’re not going to do any of those. They’re simply not good enough.” The search for a viable solution must continue.

To choose to take no action is always an alternative.

6. Disagree and Commit

Through lively, open, unreserved discussion, parties that initially disagree may shift over to the other side, or they may realize another, more advantageous option exists.

Here’s how you can disagree and still commit to the final decision:

  1. Acknowledge what you have heard
  2. Ask the other side to consider additional information or a different viewpoint
  3. Accept that the other person’s priorities may differ from yours, and that, if it’s their project, they have to make the decision
  4. Support your coworkers in implementing the decision that has been reached

As a team, it’s important for every team member, every department head, and the executives in charge, to understand why they need to participate fully in the discussion and then be willing to commit to implementation of the decision.

1 Way That Can Lead to Trouble

When the team is unable to reach a decision, it often falls to the leader to decide what to do.

7. The Person in Charge Decides

Feeling that pressure, the leader often makes the all-too-common mistake — to choose a course of action and direct the team to follow too early in the process, utilizing authority to force the outcome before everyone has been heard.

By acting too quickly, the leader has issued an unnecessary order by default. Passionate and motivated team members are now being told what they must do, being given a directive, without their valuable input being considered.

That said, there are times the leader will need to fill the tie-breaker role or make the final call based on the available information and input the team has to offer in order to get everyone through a bottleneck and closer to implementation.

When everything is on the table, the leader may feel it best to shoulder the responsibility to say, “OK, here’s what we are going to do.” After all, they are the “leader.”

Remember the goal in this stage of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ is to gain commitment to decisions, even when some team members aren’t in agreement initially.

Holding Off On the Authoritative Decision

There is still another avenue available to leaders: When no decision is in sight and a directive seems unwise, the leader could instead change the dynamic of the discussion.

8. Repackage or Reframe the Options

The leader can decide, instead of making the call himself or herself, to change the tactics for leading the decision-making process. He or she can reframe the many options that have been highlighted through group discussion and collaboration.

By not giving in to the temptation to get it over with and choose a course of action on his or her own, the person in charge can funnel the team’s input and focus toward a decision, while still leaving the final decision mostly in their hands.

For example, he or she could reduce 4 alternatives to 2, and then take the group back to discussion to make it easier for a compromise or a democratic decision to be reached.

The leader has stepped up to reduce the distractions and focus the discussion, has asserted limited authority to move the group forward, but the final decision is still a team decision.

The leader could summarize the pro’s and con’s of the leading options to draw attention away from the least popular.

Another way might be to restate or re-emphasize the desired outcome — bring the team back to the results that are needed.

In many discussions, options that aren’t good enough may linger on the table too long. Removing them can simplify the decision.

Strong Leaders Facilitate Team Decisions

Leaders need to avoid making the final call too quickly, circumventing the processes for reaching team decisions, and, instead, enable teams to reach shared-responsibility decisions they can all commit to.

Leaders help the team arrive at an outcome that each member has an investment in.

Developing effective leadership skills to guide passionate and committed teams is a challenge, but reaching the best team decisions demands it — read 5 Things Every Successful Leader Must Do to learn more.


Brett Cooper

Brett is the visionary President of Integris Performance Advisors, a professional development firm he co-founded to expand the existence of healthy organizations and great places to work. By creatively bringing together concepts from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (by Patrick Lencioni), The Leadership Challenge (by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner), and Lean Six Sigma, Brett and his team have influenced thousands of people in government, non-profits and corporate America to work together in more productive, more effective and more human ways. Outside of his role at Integris, Brett dedicates time to serving others in need. He is a volunteer coordinator for the East Bay Stand Down and Stand Down on the Delta, two non-profits serving the needs of San Francisco’s homeless Veteran population. He is also board member and financial sponsor for Partners in Sustainable Learning, whose mission is to bring early childhood education to marginalized communities in the developing world (current projects are underway in Nepal).