Competent Decision Making and the Rusty Tinman
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Decision-making is the fundamental cornerstone of any organization. Good decisions keep companies moving forward, bad decisions have grave consequences (unfortunately, very often they reveal themselves as such only in retrospect). It's no wonder that organizations strive to groom their decision-making processes, and today I want to highlight a quite common disconnect, observed not only in software development companies, but in all kinds of organizations, as well as in municipal and government bodies.
Take the dual bundle of competent decision-making vs. the decision-making process. What is of more importance, ultimately? Of course, competent decision-making. Whoever is supposed to make a decision, an individual or a group, has to qualify as a competent authority. What does “competent” mean? This means that the collective wisdom of the group, as well as the decision-making model, works to the good of the whole company. However, at times we encounter situations when a decision-making process lacks flexibility and blocks important strategic decisions. There’s a subtle edge here: On the one hand, it’s good to bring diverse opinions to the table, and to hear all possible points of view. But what if a decision-making process, made by a group of people, does not actually facilitate the quality of decisions but hinders the go-ahead on them?
Passing on the too-touchy modernity, I’ll use an example from less controversial times. Each epoch has its controversies, but anyway. Let’s look as deep as into the history of Poland, the 18th century. I remember this story from my teen years, as I read many books about European history, and what happened to Poland in the 18th century still strikes me as a very unfortunate outcome. Poland was a monarchy, and they had their parliament (Sejm) as the decision-making authority to elect kings. First, they were using the majority vote principle, but eventually they switched to the decision-making mode of liberum veto (Latin: “I freely forbid“). Any broke nobleman, who was happy to get an extra chunk of gold, or unlimited drinks, for that matter, was able to paralyze the decisions of parliament.
If those nobles were unable to elect a king, with no one of them casting a liberum veto, they were blocking the candidates for the Crown of Poland continuously. Imagine how a country with such a flawed decision-making process would end up. This story has a very sad ending. Poland was partitioned by its craving neighbors, Austria, Prussia and Russia. As you can see, sacrificing competent decision-making to a “by-the-book” decision-making process cost independence to the whole country.
Which lessons can we derive from this story for the challenges that lean organizations are facing today? Never mistake a decision-making process for competent decision-making. As with this example from the history of Poland, the point was not about making each and every broke nobleman cast his vote. They needed to change their way of making decisions to make it work to the good of Poland.
I will not get into the complex subject of how exactly decision-making groups need to function, and how they need to cast their votes, and who is supposed to have the liberum veto right, or if such a right ever needs be. This is the subject of yet another post or series of posts. Just stay alert and watch out if a decision-making process in your organization is going “rusty” and blocks sensible decisions. Be sure to have the oil can somewhere nearby, and make timely changes. Otherwise, the rust will immobilize your organization, just as was the case with the Tinman from the enchanting film The Wizard of Oz (1939):