Equipping Your Team to Make Decisions
Empowering Your Team to Step Up
Sharon manages a team of six sales executives. She's very proud of them – they regularly exceed their targets, they work well together, and they deliver exceptional customer service.
However, Sharon has recently been asked to take on new projects and to work more remotely. She has assured her boss that her team will manage without her direct involvement. But, in reality, she's worried.
She's noticed how much team members depend on her when making key sales decisions, such as whether to pursue a potential customer or what level of discount to offer. She wonders whether her people will be able to make these kinds of decisions on their own.
In this article, we examine why it's important for managers to delegate decision making, how to tell if your people are ready to take on the responsibility, and how you can best equip them to "step up to the plate"!
This article focuses on preparing your team to make decisions. See this menu for a comprehensive list of Mind Tools resources on the mechanics and models of decision making.
The Importance of Delegating Decision Making
Choosing to hand over decision-making responsibilities may be an uncomfortable shift for you to make – even when your team is highly experienced and skilled.
You might even feel threatened by it if, say, you work in a "blame" culture and you fear the consequences of poor decision making. Or, you might just doubt people's ability to make "good calls" and feel unsure about how to coach them.
However, allowing your team to make decisions independently can be a positive move, both for you and your team members. Benefits include:
- Reduced workload: encouraging your team to make decisions will reduce the burden on you, and free up time for you to focus on other tasks or responsibilities. This has the added benefit of smoothing workflow, as you will less likely be a bottleneck if you can let go of some of your workload.
- Improved decision making: your role is to inspire your people to do a great job, and you will have done your own job well if their decisions have a positive impact on your organization. You may find that, in some situations, they make better decisions than you would have done.
- New perspectives: equipping your team to make decisions will likely expose you to new ideas and options that you hadn't considered before.
- Team empowerment: studies show that decision making empowers people and helps them to feel more in control of their jobs. It also increases their confidence, improving their performance day to day.
Is Your Team Ready to Make Decisions?
You need to be confident that your team members are ready for the responsibility before you hand over the reins for decision making. But how will you know?
If your people already contribute ideas, suggestions and solutions, then you're off to a great start! And, if you already delegate some decision making to them, chances are they will welcome the opportunity to take on more responsibility.
You might not know how willing or ready your team member is, so ask! Take him to one side and ask, "How do you feel about the prospect of taking more decisions as part of your role?"
If you have a team member who is simply unwilling to take on decision-making responsibilities, our article, Holding People Accountable, has tips and strategies for dealing with this situation.
Willingness to make important decisions is one thing; being competent enough to make them is another. Let's look at how you can give your people both confidence and competence.
How to Equip Your Team to Make Decisions
Your people need three things to make decisions effectively: the right tools, the self-confidence, and the opportunity.
1. Give Them the Right Tools
When you have empowered your team members to want to take decisions, you need to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills and tools to do so.
The most important thing that you can do is to set a good example, and to give them the chance to watch and learn from you as you make decisions. You'll most likely be their personal barometer of success, so take the time to explain how you arrive at your decisions.
For example, you might explain that your decision making is influenced by your organization's values, mission and vision. You likely also consider relevant policies, procedures and background information.
Other practical measures that you can take to ready your team to make decisions include:
- Providing training. Help your people to identify gaps in their own skills and knowledge, particularly in their Critical Thinking and in risk analysis. Also, give them guidance on how to cope with an unexpected crisis, or when there's no time to think.
- Providing information. Your team will make better choices if you give them all the information and knowledge that they need.
- Encouraging learning. Help your people to take ownership of their learning and training (this has the added benefit of freeing up even more of your time). Our article, 70:20:10, can help with this.
- Assigning authority. Chances are, your position or level of seniority gives you the power to make decisions. If you are delegating some of these decisions to a team member, you'll need to give her the appropriate authority to do so. Make sure that other stakeholders know that she has that authority.
2. Give Them Self-Confidence to Succeed
If your people aren't accustomed to making decisions, they may doubt their ability to do so. This may also be the case if they made decisions that backfired, or that met with disapproval.
As a manager, part of your role is to empower and develop your team members, so that they can perform at their best. One way to do this is to help them to build self-confidence.
Our article, Building Confidence in Other People, is packed with tips and techniques for creating self-assured and postive teams.
For example, let your people know that you trust their judgment by giving them ownership of appropriate tasks or projects – and remove fear from the equation by following this up with constructive feedback. Also, celebrate their successes and encourage positive thinking.
If a team member still lacks the confidence to make decisions independently, help her to understand what triggers her anxiety. You can do this as part of a coaching or mentoring partnership.
Consider the possibility that issues around confidence may not be focused on decision making itself. For example, a team member may feel that he has the ability to make decisions, but he feels less confident in explaining the rationale behind them. Developing his communication skills could be appropriate here.
Make yourself available as people begin taking on their new responsibilities. Act as a safety net as they get used to it, and be available to "sense check" their decisions. But avoid the temptation to make the decision yourself, as that would defeat the object of the exercise!
Be wary of overconfidence! People can overestimate their ability to make good decisions just as easily as they underestimate their ability, especially if they are eager to "prove themselves."
3. Give Them the Opportunity to Make Decisions
For your team members to develop their decision-making skills, they will need to practice them.
But, before they begin, you need to set clear boundaries and areas of responsibility, so that people understand which decisions are theirs to make. Equally, make it clear what is not in someone's remit, and when he should defer decision making to someone more senior.
Start small, especially if people are still a little unsure of themselves, and set specific goals for them to aim for. For example, give a team member a target of making one significant decision within the next month.
Or, if she is low in confidence and experience, ask her to make smaller decisions – such as where to go for the next team-building event – or keep a log of the decisions that she made during a particular week, and how she arrived at them.
These tasks will likely encourage her to seek out other opportunities to practice her skills, even if it is only on a very small scale to begin with.
Remember to provide regular feedback as people grow in confidence and experience, to encourage and develop them further.
Research shows that the way managers speak to their teams about decision making can impact outcomes. Encouragement is far more powerful than criticism!
Chances are, your team members already have the ability to make good decisions. The key is recognizing when individuals are ready. Things to look out for include proactively suggesting ideas, and a willingness to get involved in decision making.
In order for people to take on decision-making responsibility, they need the confidence, tools and opportunity to do so. As a manager, these are all things that you can provide, and doing so will improve your team's performance, and reduce your own workload – a real win-win scenario!