Conventional wisdom suggests decision making in today’s business arena is a team sport, rather than a leader taking all the shots at the goalposts. It makes sense that including all stakeholders in a decision can bring diverse and often speedy solutions, improving both agility and innovation.

Referred to collectively as “the Three Cs”, communication, collaboration, and coordination are vital in creating multi-functional teams that offer a broad variety of skills, perspectives, and expertise to build next-generation products, services, and organizations.

By making decisions a “team sport”, leaders not only glean new ideas and expertise, but create cohesive teams where each member feels like a valued part of the decision-making mechanism and therefore, the company as a whole.

According to Brian Evans, global life sciences practice lead at Signium, collaborative decision-making leads to the inclusion of a more diverse set of viewpoints. This allows for individuals on the team to experience perspectives they may have otherwise never considered.

“Ultimately, collaborative decision-making creates a solution that more comprehensively addresses the problem from these additional angles. Over time and with practice, we can train ourselves to try and consider these additional perspectives in real time on our own, leading to better individual decision making as well.”


Modern leadership meets time-tested possibilities

For next-generation leadership, collaborative decision-making is critical because it brings together the experience of each person’s experience, from Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and those who will follow. In collaborating between the generations, old ideas can be refreshed and recycled to meet modern objectives.

Importantly, leveraging the collective intelligence of the team can provide the “secret sauce” that industry disruptors understand as being invaluable to the creation of innovative products and services.

By constantly reworking their ideas and getting feedback from different groups, leaders – like disruptors – can glean knowledge that will better serve more diverse groups.


Collaboration = better solutions + stronger relationships

According to Canadian author and empowerment speaker Patrick Aylward, “’Collaboration’ is the use of a problem solving model to obtain the best solution in a way that improves relations among the problem solvers. Being collaborative is advantageous for those who are task-oriented because it serves their desire for optimal solutions. Equally, being collaborative benefits those who are relationship-oriented because it serves their desire for stronger relationships.”

Aylward noted the six steps of the collaborative decision-making model as being:

  • Setting parameters
  • Exchange of perspectives
  • Issue identification
  • Interest identification
  • Generation of options
  • Selection of solutions

In implementing these steps into a decision-making model, it is the diverse inputs that lead to creative solutions and drive innovation, keeping businesses ahead of the curve in rapidly changing markets. Importantly, involving team members in the process from start to finish enhances their commitment, motivation, and job satisfaction.


Open communication: Transparency must be seen to be real

Possibly the most important part of any collaboration is transparency and effective communication. By eliminating confusion and the mixed messages that follow, leaders can ensure all stakeholders are in sync on their journey to a valuable outcome. When team members have access to the same information, the playing field is level and misunderstandings or hidden agendas are less likely to disrupt the process.

All stakeholders and participants should be given the same time consideration to explain their ideas and reasoning for the process to be truly successful. Success in this context means the development of a culture that encourages collaboration, where participants can see their involvement in the final outcome. This requires conscious and ongoing effort and commitment from leadership.

“It is paramount that empathy be part of the equation. To simply hear everyone in the room is not enough. We must listen with the goal of understanding. Collaborative decision-making is a two-lane process which includes not only the giving of our own ideas, but also the receiving of ideas from others,” says Evans.

Five steps to fostering collaborative decision-making

  1. Lead by example – Demonstrate collaborative behaviour as a leader, encouraging open dialogue and actively seeking diverse perspectives from team members, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the organization.
  2. Define clear goals and values upfront: Communicate the organization’s goals, values, and mission. When all parties understand the common purpose, efforts are aligned, and individuals can work towards shared objectives.
  3. Innovation safety zone: Make sure team members feel safe to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or reprisal by encouraging risk-taking and treating mistakes as learning opportunities each time this group gathers.
  4. Create cross-functional teams: Teams that include individuals from different departments and backgrounds bring diversity of expertise and business experiences that can enrich discussions and pave the way to innovative solutions.
  5. Encourage the art of listening: Train leaders and team members to actively listen to one another by encouraging them to paraphrase and summarize each other’s input to ensure understanding. In team training, note that people can see when they are being heard and when someone is just waiting to speak.

By empowering various teams within a company to make decisions related to their areas of expertise, shared ownership and accountability for the outcomes becomes corporate culture and not just an exercise to be learned from.

Setting aside time for collaborating decision-makers to share their experience with other teams or employees across the company may result in valuable efforts by all staff members.

Solidifying newfound accountability with continuous development through training can result in improvements in productivity, teamwork and a newfound enthusiasm for their work, colleagues, and the company as a whole.