#16: Decisions, decisions

Decentralizing the role of decision making at work

decision making.jpg

Who holds the power to make decisions in your organization?

Your boss? The executive team? Judy? Maybe, it’s you.

In most organizations, the decision-making power is held by a handful of leaders at the top.

Here at Civilla, we take an unconventional approach: rather than centralizing decision making, our guiding principles state that the person closest to the issue should make the final call. 

Here’s why:

  1. We believe that the person closest to the issue understands it best, and is therefore best equipped to make the decision.

  2. We believe that empowering team members to make decisions enables each person to take ownership over their work–and contributes to more thoughtful, efficient and actionable decision making across the organization.

Building a culture of decentralized decision making at Civilla didn’t happen by accident and it didn’t happen overnight. From our experience, there are three key steps to enabling decentralized decision making at work.

1. Clarify your organization’s purpose and principles

What is the purpose of your organization? What principles will guide your work? 

Without clear purpose and principles, team members may have different interpretations of what the “best” decision is for an organization. For example, you might get caught in a moment when you’re asked to choose between competing priorities (work productivity vs. personal relationships or efficiency vs. quality of work) and not have a clear sense for where to focus.

Here at Civilla, we set aside time regularly to reflect on our purpose and principles as a team:

  • Every Monday morning, we gather together and read aloud our organization’s vision, purpose, principles. 

  • Every Friday afternoon, we reflect on how we’ve embodied our principles throughout the week. We write for 15 minutes and then share our reflections with the team. 

  • Every quarter, we dedicate two days for a team off-site, which we call Re:tool. We use this time to update our strategic intent and reflect on how our actions align with our organization’s purpose and principles.

By reviewing our purpose and principles regularly, every teammate is grounded in a shared understanding of why we exist and how we conduct our work–and can make decisions accordingly.

2. Make proposing solutions a team-wide norm

Every team member is expected to ‘do the work’ of deciding

Too often in traditional work settings, employees are expected to present the facts to the boss who then makes a decision.

At Civilla, each team member is responsible for presenting the facts and sharing a point of view on the best path forward. Our leaders reinforce this norm by flipping the question “what do you think?” back to us. After discussing the pros and cons of available options, they’ll often say “I trust you to make the final call.” This practice then becomes distributed through each of our working teams: we encourage our teammates to share their thoughts and ideas before jumping in and providing suggestions ourselves.

3. Trust the final call

Sharing the role of decision making with others ultimately comes down to humility and trust. Humility is needed because we all end up conceding that we are not always the right person to make every decision. Trust is required because there are times when it feels nerve racking to support the instinct and intuition of others - particularly when others make a different decision than we would have.

Any leader who is committed to enabling their teammates to make more decisions will - themselves - need to practice following, supporting, and leading from a place of trust. These challenges are balanced by the strength and beauty that emerges when decision making is distributed in an organization, rather than centralized. 

–––

By regularly reflecting on our purpose and principles, making it the norm for team members to propose solutions, and trusting the final call, decision making has become a full team effort. 

– Sam + the team



Adam Selzer