Tom was not surprised when Jacob and Marilyn asked for a private meeting with him. He had a hunch that some of the team was displeased with him. He thought of Jacob and Marilyn as ‘unofficial’ team leaders. They seemed to be the two people who his team members looked to for professional guidance. Tom had mixed feeling about his upcoming meeting with the two of them. On the one hand it would be a relief to find out what was wrong and on the other hand, well he was going to find out what was wrong.
After a little bit of small talk, Marilyn broached the issue with Tom. She said to him, “You know Tom sometimes I just want to stop you in our team meetings and say; please make a decision”. Marilyn waited a moment for Tom to consider her statement and then she continued, “I leave our team meetings not knowing your position on some of the issues we encounter and not knowing how you want me to proceed, so I make my own decision”.
Jacob joined the discussion by saying, “You know Tom, sometimes you seem like you are just on the verge of making a decision. Like the other day, you asked each of us to share our opinion. For a moment there it looked to me like you were using consensus based decision making. Or maybe that you were even going to have us vote and then make a decision based on our vote. But that is where the discussion ended.”
Tom was surprised to learn that his decision making skills were the issue. His perspective was that he had a team full of smart experts who knew the issues better than he did. He also had to admit that he felt uncomfortable in his role because he was definitely in a position where he had accountability but little authority. There was no person on the team who officially reported to him.
In theory, Tom was familiar with decision making styles such as using consensus, taking a vote, delegating or simply being autocratic and making the decision himself. Tom thought that he was consistently using delegation to make decisions. He told Jacob and Marilyn that by asking the team their opinions and then saying nothing he was really letting the experts gather information from the team and then make their own decision.
Jacob and Marilyn were not going to let Tom get off that easily. They had his time and attention and they really wanted him to participate in decision making. They explained to him that if he was truly delegating the decision, he needed to make this clear. They wanted him to state the issue, the purpose for discussing the issue and clearly tell the team how a resolution to the issue would be selected. If he expected the subject matter experts to decide how to resolve the issue, Tom needed to state it. It needed to show up in the meeting minutes as an action item and it needed to be on the issues list too. If the subject matter experts were supposed to come up with an approach and bring it back to the team, that should be an agenda item for the next team meeting. All of these items would show the team that Tom was setting an approach and leading them in following through on making the decision.
Tom was sincerely appreciative of Jacob and Marilyn. He knew that they were coming from a place of helping him and helping the team. So when they asked if they could meet with him again for further discussion on decision making, it was easy for him to say, “Yes”.