You probably spend large chunks of your day in meetings or on conference calls. That’s especially true if you’re in any sort of management, project, or team leadership role. Whether in person or using communication technology, meetings, conferences calls, or webinars are more important than ever in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. Research clearly shows that when run effectively, groups make better decisions than individuals. Effective team sessions involve and engage participants in problem-solving and planning.

But most group sessions are poorly run. Many are a disaster. That’s why so many people dislike them. Symptoms are comments like, “I could get a lot more of my work done if it wasn’t for all of these bloody meetings/conference calls.” Participants who continually experience poorly run group sessions see them as a waste of time. Many are. Managers, project, or team leaders who lead or participate in well run and effective team interactions get the bulk of their work done through virtual or physical meetings. These don’t get in the way of their work, this is their work.

Deciding How to Decide

Many groups get tripped up by confusion around whether and how decisions are made. There are three basic ways along the “3 C continuum” for a team or group to make a decision:

Command – made by the manager, project or team leader with little input from other team members.

Consultative – made by a team member (often the manager, project or team leader) after consulting others who have knowledge or who must be committed to the decision.

Consensus – made by the entire team as a group either through “majority rules” or unanimous agreement.

The further the team moves toward the consensus end of the continuum, the more buy-in or commitment there is to the decision. Decision-making time is longer. But implementation time and effectiveness dramatically improves.

A common source of frustration and conflict in teams is when the type of decision-making method being used is not clear to everyone at the outset of the discussion. Managers, project, or team project managers will often add to the problem by leading what seems to be a consultative or even consensus discussion when he or she has already made up his or her mind. This comes across as a “guess what I am thinking” exercise. Or it can look like the leader is trying to manipulate the team into the “right decision.” Some less effective managers, project or team leaders with weak leadership skills will intimidate team members into “forced consensus” (an oxymoron) and leave the discussion genuinely believing that the team is united in the decision.

Some agenda items are for information and some are updates. But whenever decisions are needed, avoid confusion – and lots of frustration – by ensuring everyone is clear about the type of decision making process you’re using.