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May 15, 2019

Defining Clear Decision Rights to Reduce Drama

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A significant source of drama among teams and organizations is that people are not clear about how a decision will be made. Conscious leaders clarify decision rights as a way to be in full integrity by being impeccable around their agreements. No decision right is fundamentally better than another. Conscious leaders get present and consider which decision right will most serve the situation, circumstance, and team. Here’s how:


Step 1: Identify if there is a decision to be made

Unconscious leaders have meeting after meeting and conversation after conversation without anyone asking “Are we going to make a decision about this subject, and if so, who is going to make the decision?” Conscious leaders decide if there’s a decision to be made or not. If not, create a clear agreement with your team to shelve the conversation. If you determine that there is a decision to be made, go to step 2. This step alone will increase team effectiveness and time management.

Step 2: Clearly articulate the decision to be made


Step 3: Determine the importance of time and buy-in by answering these questions

How much time do you have?
How important is the issue?
How much stakeholder buy-in do you need?
Who has the information and expertise needed?
How capable and experienced are the decision-makers?
What is the decision right that could strengthen the team?

Step 4: Choose a decision right

In order to determine which decision right will be used, the leader takes the answers to the questions in Step 3 into consideration to determine the right balance of time and buy-in. Time relates to the urgency of the decision. If the decision needs to be made quickly, certain decision rights are preferred. If buy-in is important, other decision rights (that generally take more time) come into play.

There are seven decision rights to choose from:

1. Leader decides
The leader and leader alone makes the decision without seeking any input. This method is fast but doesn’t always create buy-in.‍

2. Leader decides with input
The leader makes the decision while seeking input from others. The leader decides the amount of input and the time allotted.

3. Subgroup decides
Some decisions are best made by a subgroup of the whole. This subgroup can be made up of subject matter experts or representatives of stakeholder constituencies. When this decision right is chosen the subgroup makes the decision and no one else gives input.

4. Subgroup decides with input
The subgroup makes the decision while seeking input from others.

5. Majority vote
Leader decides how much time to allot for group discussion and what type of majority will be used for the vote (simple majority, two/thirds, etc.). Everyone has the opportunity to voice their thoughts and enter their vote.

6. Consensus
Consensus is achieved when no one is opposed to the decision. People can be neutral or have various levels of agreement with the decision, but no one can be opposed. Consensus demands that everyone is heard and that everyone stands for what is best for the whole.

*When a leader chooses consensus as the decision right, they must also choose a fallback decision right. Sometimes consensus is not achieved, and when it isn’t the group needs to know how the decision will be made.

The leader can select any one of the previous 5 decision rights as the fallback method for making the decision.

7. Alignment
Alignment is a form of consensus where every individual is not only unopposed to the decision, but actually totally for the decision. Alignment usually takes the longest time, but delivers the greatest buy-in.

*Like consensus, alignment requires choosing a fallback decision right in case alignment isn’t achieved.


Step 5: Execute the decision right

Engage the relevant stakeholders to address the issue.


Step 6: Be complete with your decision

Once you’ve reached your decision, everyone agrees that it is final/complete. That means no side conversations about what anyone didn’t share during the process, no back door attempts to influence the decision maker(s), and clarity around an agreed upon process for revisiting the decision if needed.

Support Resources

Share this 3-minute video with your team to introduce the idea of decision rights.



Use this handout in your conference rooms to clarify decision rights in the moment.


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