Merge's Blog

The decision-making continuum – five possible degrees of interaction

Recently I received an email from a new supervisor who is trying to establish the boundaries of his relationship with his manager.  “Often my boss invites me into his office to discuss different issues,” he said.  “I take that to mean that she wants my perspectives and input.  But sometimes I feel like my comments only seem to frustrate her.  Is she looking for a dialogue with me, or does she just want me to nod in agreement?”  The answer to this question lies in what problem-solving mode his manager is in.  Does she want to brainstorm ideas and solutions or is she seeking recommendations and action?

It might be easier to make this determination if you were to consider the decision-making continuum.  On this continuum, there are five distinct degrees that range from “I make the decision” at one end to “you make the decision” at the other.  Here they are:

  1. Informational – I’ve made the decision; just want to let you know.
  2. Reality-check – I’ve almost decided but I want to make sure that I haven’t missed any critical information.
  3. Data-gathering – I need to gather information before I can make a decision; please give me your input and expertise and then I will make the final decision.
  4. Collaborative – we need to make the decision together; consensus would be ideal.
  5. It’s your decision – I’ll give you the framework; you ask clarifying questions.  Then you make the decision.

When working with your boss or your staff, it’s worthwhile to identify what outcome is being sought in terms of the decision-making discussion.  In the case of his boss, this young supervisor needs to ask some probing questions up front to establish what degree of involvement she wants from him.  Then he can offer the appropriate level of input.  When working with employees, it’s useful to be clear at the outset as to what degree of discussion you’d like them to engage in.  That way they can proceed with an understanding of what you expect.  Clarity at the start will avoid frustration on everyone’s part.

Have you experienced this type of aggravation as well?  How have you handled it?


  • Yes, I agree successful leaders require to be good communicators. If a manager clearly states what they are looking for from their employees before they do any work it will be a more successful outcome on the results as it is more efficient use of time. After all to be an effective leader you want the employee to succeed with the results. At the same time if an employee comes up with an idea it is important to give credit and recognize the employee’s efforts. It is unfortunate that some leaders take the idea as their own to upper management. Collaboration is the best way to get frontline involvement so that the right solution is made and issues a leader is unaware of are also resolved. This is sometimes a step most leaders forget and miss.

  • sk, you make a very good point about the importance of giving credit where it is due. I too, unfortunately, I have across situations where some managers (I can’t call them leaders) pass off an employee’s idea as one of their own to senior management. While this can continue for a while, the eventual outcome is that these managers lose all credibility with their staff, and ultimately, leaders are nobodies without followers!

    Also concur with you about the value of collaboration. Consensus decisions ALWAYS have a greater likelihood of achieving a successful outcome!


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