Please, Make a Decision

Over lunch, Jacob and Marilyn discussed some of the frustrations they were experiencing on one of their current projects. Jacob was a business analyst on the project and Marilyn was the subject matter expert. Jacob turned to Marilyn and said to her, “If you could say just one thing to Tom our project manager, what would it be?” Without hesitation Marilyn replied, “Please, make a decision.”

Unfortunately Jacob and Marilyn both viewed Tom as wishy-washy. He seemed to be either unwilling or unable to make decisions. The result was that team members like Jacob and Marilyn were often unsure about how to move forward with some of their work.

When the project was just beginning, team members would ask for clarification with regard to who should help with certain parts of the project or whether or not they should work overtime if they were late with a deliverable or what to do if they had a conflict between this project and their other assignments. Very quickly a pattern emerged. Tom did not give clear and direct answers to the questions. He did not come right out and say, “No do not work overtime”. He did not come right out and say, ”Work overtime on critical path tasks only”. Truthfully what Tom did not do was make a decision. Some of the issues that the team brought to him probably did require input from other managers. In fact the team expected Tom to say something like, “We need to sit down with your manager and your other project managers and resolve these scheduling conflicts”. But Tom did not. He simply did not choose a direction.

Eventually the team stopped asking Tom questions that required any type of decision making. This left each team member to resolve issues on their own. Some of them worked with other team members to reach decisions about how to move forward. Some of them made decisions independently. As you can probably guess, this approach toward decision making had very mixed results.

By not exhibiting decision making skills, Tom lost control of the team. He changed his role from that of a true leader to more of a coordinator. His team gave him updates, but worked around him anytime there was uncertainty.

The team needed to see Tom make decisions. They needed to see him listen to their questions, consider the issues they brought to him and decide how to move forward. There was no expectation that he would make every decision himself. There was an expectation that he would handle each question and issue using a decision making style that was best suited to the situation at hand. Sometimes perhaps a decision would be made using consensus, perhaps sometimes there would be a team vote and other times maybe Tom would make the call.

Marilyn was right, someone needed to say to Tom, “Please make a decision.”