The People

Alex: What do you do when your team members can't make decisions?

Have you ever had a team member that can't make a decision? They are constantly asking for other people's opinions and thoughts before they make any action, no matter how small?

I recently had an example of this with a leader I was coaching. One of her team members had been charged with organising a cocktail party for the broader business, a job she had volunteered for.

Now they had already had an initial briefing and my leader had set really clear parameters – the budget, numbers, time frame and some other basics. Yet despite this, her staff member called her repeatedly every time she had any question or pushback from the invitees – and asked her "What do YOU want to do?"

Now my client was getting really frustrated. She thought this staff member would take control and make some quick decisions and just get the job done.

So why wasn't this happening?

Well in my experience, this issue is probably grounded in two things.

  1. Her staff member didn't have the confidence to make a decision herself because she didn't want to upset anyone and be the 'bad guy'.
  2. She didn't really believe that her boss was empowering her with the decision and so was scared to make the call.

So if you have a team member who isn't taking responsibility for decisions, this is what I suggest:

  1. Have a real think about what you do as the boss.Do you really empower your team members to make a call and then back them, or do you say that but want to have a say in every decision?

    If this is not your intention, then this is so easy to fix. Make it really clear, again, that your team are empowered to make decisions AND give them some ground rules.

    When they still come to you, ask them why – not in an accusatory way but in a curious way. Really seek to understand why they don't have the confidence to make it themselves, and you will get some valuable insights.

  2. Another great tip when your staff come to you is to ask them questions instead of giving them an answer. Ask them what would they do? What do they think? This will gradually build up their confidence, especially when you support their idea. It will also have the added benefit of making them think before they come to you. If they know you will ask them straight off for an opinion, rather than give them an answer, then they will do some thinking before the see you!
So in this case, the leader I was coaching tried both these tips. Turns out that she had a history of making the 'final decision' and even though she was genuine in outsourcing this one, her staff member didn't understand that this was different. She also discovered that her staff member was worried about being the bad guy and making a call that others didn't agree with. What valuable information to have! Now that has lead to a whole other coaching conversation about how to make decisions even when you don't have consensus!


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