Clarifying Roles in Decision-Making

Issue 3: December, 2011

In This Issue

Training Alert: Nonprofit Board Training

Clarifying Roles in Decision-Making 

Featured Training: Building Mutual Respect and Trust

Know somebody who would benefit from reading this eNewsletter? Please forward it to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!

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The 8th Annual Nonprofit Organization Board Training takes place Saturday, January 21, 2012 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm in Corvallis, Oregon

Are you a member of the board of directors of a charitable, educational or scientific organization? A service club, fraternal organization, business association or religious organization? Then this event is for you! Over 600 nonprofit leaders attended this training last year.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on Tools for Board Recruitment, and there will be over 20 other workshops and presentations by leading trainers and practitioners.  For more information, go to the Financial Stewardship Resources website.

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Welcome to the third edition of Different Angles, the eNewsletter of New Perspectives Coaching, Training and Facilitation. I’ve been teaching a lot of workshops, and doing a lot of facilitation and leadership development this last couple of months, and one theme that has run through all of that work has been the importance of clarifying how decision-making is going to work in this particular organization or process, and what role each person or group of people is going to play.

I sometimes have trouble convincing people that this topic is as important as, say, strategic planning, but I see again and again how a lack of clarity about this creates frustration, delays, confusion, and sometimes mistrust, and translates into lack of follow-through when you get to implementation. So I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve been seeing and hearing, and offer a simple and effective framework for clarifying decision-making roles.

Clarifying Roles in Decision-Making

When the decision-making process isn’t working

When decision-making roles or processes are not clear, you may hear things like:

“Did we make that decision?”

“But I never agreed to that!”

“Who was supposed to…?”

“But nobody asked me!”

“When did we decide to…”

“I thought we agreed to…”

“They’re just not committed (engaged, motivated)”

Processes bog down, meetings take forever and often end without resolutions to problems on the agenda, different people have very different ideas about how the process is supposed to work and/or what their roles are in making a decision, how decisions actually get made are very different from the process described on paper or “generally understood” in the organization, and there is a lot of frustration.

The success of our teams — and our organizations — depends on our ability to work together, including our ability to make sound decisions that lead to committed and effective action.

But it’s hard to trust — and feel confident about participating in — a process you don’t understand. And it’s hard to feel motivated to act when you are not clear about what to do.

Creating Clarity

One cornerstone of effective decision-making is being clear about what role each person or group is being asked to play. This also helps nurture respect, trust, and a sense of belonging and teamwork.

There are four basic roles people or groups can play

  • Role 1: Receiver of information
  • Role 2: Provider of input or responses to an idea or proposal (leaving the decision-making power in the hands of the person/people presenting);
  • Role 3: Maker of all or part of the decision — be delegated decision-making power (usually within a set of parameters defined by the person or group doing the delegating); and,
  • Role 4: Participant in a collaborative decision-making process. (This could be fully collaborative, or it could include layers in which all groups have equal voice and layers in which final decision-making is assigned to one person or group).

When bringing an item or task to a given group (working group, team, board, committee, etc.), it is critical to communicate clearly about what role is being assigned/invited when presenting an item for discussion. Thinking you are being asked to play one role and then discovering later that you were being asked to play a different one creates confusion, frustration, and mistrust.

The roles requested or assigned should be reflected in whatever written materials are connected to the item or task — meeting agendas, minutes, memos, emails, etc.

Sometimes you are in a position to dictate roles, sometimes that has to be decided by the group. If you don’t know ahead of time what role you want a particular group to play in a process, make sure the decision-making about the role(s) happens early in the process, and is transparent and understood by all. It is far better to know at the beginning of a process whether there are disagreements about each person/group’s role in the process, so you can clear that up ahead of time rather than having the process questions get tangled up in the content conversations.

Try It Out

Think about a decision-making process that you found (or are finding) frustrating. Try to list all of the people involved in that process and their roles (using the list above, but adding whatever specific info you have — i.e. “Fred (who writes the Annual Report) was a Receiver of Information about the new project, and a Maker of the Decision about how to represent that program in the Annual Report, with input from Jessie and Sam” (who are in role #2 above).

  • How clear are you about all those different roles, and how they played out over the full course of the decision-making process?
  • How clear do you think everybody involved in the process was?
  • What was the impact of any lack of clarity about roles on the part of the people involved?
  • How different would the decision-making process feel if everyone was clear up front their roles?

Making it Work

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to slow down enough to identify roles. Here is a link to a page that includes a link to my downloadable Decision Mapping Worksheet. It will allow you to map the roles of everybody involved for any decision making process in just a few minutes (the exercise generally takes about 10 minutes in my workshops). It has the added benefit of clearly identifying up front all the people who will (or should) be involved in the process, avoiding those “oops, we forgot to talk to x (the development committee, the people who will need to implement it on the ground, the person you are expecting to provide support via their team, etc.) about this” moments.

The worksheet may feel overly formal, but it is enormously helpful in making sure everybody is on the same page and avoiding the frustrations that happen when expectations are not clear. I think you’ll discover that using it will make your decision-making processes both more collaborative and more efficient.

Once you’ve practiced it for a while, you’ll find yourself doing it naturally — and I think you’ll discover that it pays off not only in smoother and more effective decision-making, but also in better and more committed implementation.

This tool comes from my Making it Work workshop.  For information on that and other workshops and training modules, or on facilitation and coaching services, click on the tabs above or contact me.

Join the conversation

I’d love to hear about what comes up for you in response to this article — experiences, questions, observations, etc. Please click on the word “comments” at the bottom of the page to join the conversation.

Pass it on!

If you know people you think might find this article useful, please feel free to forward this newsletter to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!


Looking for in-house training designed to meet the specific needs of your staff or board? I specialize in providing unorthodox, effective training that gives you powerful new tools to address the goals and challenges you are actually facing.

What People Say (from workshop evaluations):

“A very different way of viewing and dealing with difficulties.
It was rewarding and had very good results.”

“(provided) new paths toward solutions — clearing away the clutter”

“Gives you tangible tools to use on your own.”

“Exceeded my expectations”

You’ll find more about my approach to training on the website. Please contact me to talk about your needs and what I can offer.

Featured Training: Building Mutual Respect and Trust

Mutual respect and trust are essential parts of a strong partnerships and collaboration, whether with other organizations or within our own. But how do we create that?

I recently did trainings on building mutual respect and trust at both the Oregon Civic Engagement Conference and the annual conference of American Association of Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC), which were great fun, and got participants engaged and fired up. Could your organization use a workshop that will give you concrete tools for cultivating trust and respect, and lay the foundation for innovative and authentic teams and partnerships? I’m offering a two-hour version of this workshop for $175 inside the Portland Metro Region (outside the region I add travel expenses).

You can lock in the price by getting the training scheduled by January 30th — it can happen anytime in 2011 or 2012.

Do you feel like you are pushing boulders uphill? Get a New Perspectives Organizational Boulders Assessment

I offer a free, 90 minute organizational assessment in which you’ll get:

  • New perspectives and insights into what’s causing many of the challenges to effective teamwork and leadership development in your organization (where you are pushing boulders uphill when you don’t have to be);
  • New tools you can use immediately to address some of the core causes of your organization’s internal challenges;
  • A renewed sense of what is possible, and renewed energy for making needed shifts happen; and
  • A list of next steps for making your organization’s internal work easier and more effective.

If you are interested in setting up a Boulders Assessment, please contact me.

© Tasha Harmon, December 2011.  All rights reserved.

You are invited to share this eNewsletter with friends and colleagues as long as it stays in tact, with all acknowledgements and contact information in place. If you’d like permission to reprint an article from my eNewsletter, written permission is required. Please do contact me about this if you are interested. Thank you.

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