The fastest way to release bottlenecks:

the 4 keys to intentional decision making


Published on: December 2020

Written by: Jacqueline Brodnitzki

I’ve realized I’m getting in the way of my organization’s speed and agility. I’ve become a decision-making bottleneck. Making quick decisions is so critical right now yet I also want to be inclusive. How can I speed up while getting the right level of buy-in and participation?”

An executive recently posed this question in a coaching session and he’s not alone. Many clients are asking similar questions. They’ve realized that with increased pressure the stakes are extremely high— most decisions need to be streamlined and they carry extra weight. The risk of a bad decision may mean the difference between expertly leading your organization through this challenging time or causing undo damage to the business.

“Speeding up while bringing others along is a common leadership concern these days.”

Executives are moving faster than ever, and with so many people virtual, communication and decision-making challenges are real barriers to forward progress. During a time when decision making must be fast, leaders find themselves without the safety net of traditional ways they used gather data and garner buy-in, such as through casual interactions or dropping by a colleague’s or team member’s office.

A group of senior leaders we work with at a technology company had a recent ‘ah-ha’ about this very topic. They had been struggling to accelerate the strategies they were trying to put in place to keep the business growing and asked us to work with their team to help them increase their productive collaboration. When we taught them how to create structure and set expectations for intentional decision making, they quickly started seeing results. Their teams began buying into decisions more completely and they knew how to engage with their leader about the decision, resulting in creating quicker and smarter decisions.

What was the trick? Here are 4 strategies you can use to create speed, buy-in, and a discipline of decision-making excellence:

  1. Determine how much involvement and engagement is needed for the decision
  2. Set expectations regarding who will make the decision
  3. Set guardrails
  4. Clarify how the decision was made


1.   Determine how much involvement and engagement is needed for the decision

The decision-making graphic below shows four ways to make a decision, the resulting engagement each creates, and the involvement each requires. Interestingly, there is a time and place for each of these options, depending on how much time you have and how inclusive you need to be.

The Command approach has the least engagement and involvement. With this technique, the leader makes the decision without any input. This style is quite effective when speed is critical or when in an extreme crisis. For example, when the house is on fire, you don’t have time to consult and collaborate. Someone must take command and get everyone out of the building.

The Consult strategy has the next most engagement and involvement. The leader asks for input but makes it clear up front that they will make the final decision. The Collaborate approach enables the leader and team to come to a collective decision, with some helpful guardrails to bound the discussion. The Constrain technique is a ninja leadership skill. The leader delegates the decision and agrees to accept it, as long as it meets certain criteria. This requires trust and clarity on the part of the leader, which ups the ante, but also creates the most involvement and engagement from your team.

2.   Set expectations regarding who will make the decision

Once you’ve decided which decision-making strategy you will use, make sure you communicate what strategy you are using and who is making the decision. For example, with Consult be clear up front that you are asking for input and want to hear from the team, but that you will make the final decision. And once the decision is made, you’ll communicate the decision and rationale behind it.

With Collaborate, communicate up front that you’ll discuss as a team and if the team can’t decide or get to a consensus, you will make the decision.

With Constrain, clarify that you are delegating the decision making to another person or a team and make sure they understand they are making the decision and will need to deliver that back along with the reasoning behind it.

3.   Set guardrails

The Consult and Collaborate approaches engage others to provide input, but they run the risk of getting bogged down in group think and debate. To ensure timely decisions, the right guardrails need to be in place to maintain momentum. With Consult you must be clear about what is up for discussion and how long the topic will remain open. For example, you might ask for input from your team about a specific topic for 15 minutes during a meeting, or for 3 days after the meeting. Once the time is up, then you can move in whatever direction you see fit, but the team understands how they can contribute, and there is less opportunity for second guessing once your decision is made.

With Collaborate, to ensure the decision doesn’t die in committee, specify how many need to be in agreement for the decision to stand and time bound the input. Be clear upfront, that you will discuss as a team and if 80% don’t agree by the end of the meeting, you will make the decision and communicate it back to everyone.

Constrain requires you to trust your team, and to provide clarity about your expectations, with any caveats. Since you delegate the decision, the criteria must be very well delineated—for example, it must come in on budget, or take less than a month to execute, or needs to occur by the end of the year.

4.   Clarify how the decision was made

After making a decision, it’s easy to make the mistake of moving on without explaining how you reached your conclusion. Yet this common error erodes buy-in and engagement as the lack of transparency raises suspicions and doubt. Communicating how you reached a decision is a powerful teaching opportunity and a great way to get your team to stand behind the decision and execute on the plan. If a team knows the rationale behind a sound decision, they’re also more likely to back you up when communicating the strategy to their teams and to stakeholders.

These strategies create the conditions for sound decision making, not only by you, but also your team. And this is important: a study referenced in The Harvard Business Review article, The Decision-Driven Organization, indicates that 95% of an organization’s performance comes down to the decision-making abilities of its leaders.

Don’t you owe it to your organization to get better at making the many critical decisions you make each week?

For more reading on teams and decision making, check out this post.

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