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There are six frogs on a wall. Two frogs decide to jump off. How many frogs are now on the wall?

The six frogs and decision making

Here is a question for you:

There are six frogs on a wall.  Two frogs decide to jump off.  How many frogs are now on the wall?

OK, I’ll save you the embarrassment: there are six.

Why?

The two frogs only decided to jump off; they did not actually jump off.

Sorry!

First, the difference between deciding – and acting

As I am sure you have experienced, there is a clear difference between deciding to do something and actually doing something.  The frogs have made the decision to jump, but have not acted yet.  So, first we must make a clear distinction between deciding and acting.

However, even deciding is far richer than it at first seems.  There is another step that is exposed in our everyday language, but often goes unnoticed.  That is the difference between making a decision and taking a decision.

What is the difference between ‘decision making’ and ‘decision taking’?

Listen to how people use these two phrases, making a decision and taking a decision.  When I ask people what the difference is, between ‘decision making’ and ‘decision taking’, I generally get the answer, “Is there a difference?” (Try it amongst your colleagues).

Let me suggest to you that there is a big and, more importantly, a very useful difference.  Have you ever being in a meeting where a decision is discussed, the decision is constructed or is being made.  However, at some point in the meeting, the conversation moves onto another topic and no one actually commits to doing anything.  There is discussion of a decision, but no commitment to any action. When I see this I say,

“Oh look, there is a decision going out of the window!” 

(It is quite funny to watch people at this point, as some look out of the window to follow it.)

The point is that we construct and build decisions (decision making) but, at some point, we also need, as a team, to commit to a decision, (decision taking).  What I see often happening is that decisions are being made (discussed and constructed), but that there is no explicit commitment.  As a team, the decision stays uncommitted to.  Alternatively, the action is only committed to by some of the participants, or some in the team think there is commitment, whereas other have not (yet) committed.  As a result, little, or nothing, happens after the meeting.

Do you have committees?  Really?

A good friend of mine says that we have meetings or what we call committees, but they are not ‘committ-ees’.  They are merely ‘make-ees’.  They only discuss and construct (make) decisions: they do not commit to them.  They talk through a decision, but there is no commitment and subsequently no or limited action.  I suspect you know a few ‘make-ees’, that should be ‘committ-ees’.

What this frog and commit-ee discussion reveals is a three-stage decision process.  There is Decision-making (construction), there is Decision-taking (commitment) and there is Decision-action (the frogs actually jump).

I see a lot of teams having problems when some members are still thinking about and making their decision, whilst others have committed and perhaps even started acting on what they think is the taken decision.  The issue is often about how different people in the team are at different stages of this decision making process, compounded by not realising, that others are at different stages.  This is compounded by not having a language to talk about their decision process.

Improving the quality of conversation about the decision process

What surprises me is how this simple idea quickly enters the language of my clients.  They are talking about decision making and decision taking and even spotting when decisions “disappear out of the window”.  They are tracking the progress of their decisions amongst themselves, ensuring that the entire team are at the same stage.

Simply having a language to track the conversation and highlight where the team are in their decision process is valuable.  This is a small part of the approach we use to improve the quality of conversation, thinking and decision making with our clients.   Of course you can read about the other steps in the in the Excitant decision process in our other posts.

Question: Have you only decided to look at these other posts?  Or have you actually committed, and acted?

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