In many organisations it is often the practice to give autonomy to many teams and let them make the decisions that affect their day to day affairs, as well as some strategic issues. These are the so-called self-directed teams that exist in all organisations where the managers of these teams take decisions regarding management of the team with greater autonomy than the other teams.
These self-directed teams are liked by many managers since there is greater freedom and greater say over their affairs; and the rank and file employees also like these teams because it gives them greater control over their work. However, senior management in most cases does not like to cede autonomy; and hence there is often a tussle going on between senior management and middle management as far as these self-directed teams and their functioning goes.
The previous articles have discussed how many transnational corporations cede autonomy to regional and divisional heads and let them run their regions or divisions as they see fit. It is the case that within these divisions and regions there is often a tendency to not pass the autonomy down the ranks and instead be as authoritarian as possible. This is indeed a travesty, but something that happens in practice in many organizations.
The standard defence that the senior managers in these divisions and regions offer is that passing down autonomy to the rank and file might not be practically possible, given the lack of strategic focus and direction that individual teams have – which makes them take orders instead of deciding for themselves.
Of course, the intra-organisational tussles that go on between the senior management and rank and file employees along with the middle managers might make for interesting gossip, but in reality these tussles have negative effects on the organisational fabric.
Hence, a possible solution to this issue would be to ensure that sufficient autonomy is ceded to the middle managers without compromising on the strategic imperatives. This can be done if the decision-making is decentralised in some functions like HR, Admin, Finance, Operations, and Project Management and Project Delivery – and at the same time retain control over the overall strategic direction and focus that the company must take.
Though this solution might sound simplistic, in reality this is something that has been actualised in many organisations, especially in Fidelity and Unilever – where functional and divisional heads as well as regional heads take decisions regarding these activities without interference from the higher-ups.
Though there are bound to be some issues that crop up from time to time because of it, there are some positive benefits to this arrangement. These benefits are to do with the way in which the regional and divisional autonomy manifests in better decisions made about the day to day operations – based on local conditions instead of centralised decision-making that is top-down and done without knowledge of ground realities.
In conclusion, decision-making in self-directed teams must be encouraged without ceding complete control over the larger areas of policy and strategy. This can be actualised with some deft planning of the organisational structure and reorienting the organisational culture.
Conflict Resolution and Decision-Making
Any decisions made at any level have to take into account the conflicting needs of individuals who are affected by the decisions, and hence conflict resolution is a part of the decision-making process. How well the conflicts are resolved depends on the skill and leadership traits of the decisionmaker.
After all, any decision taken has to balance competing interests and is essentially an allocation of shared resources among the different groups. The point here is that in any organisation there are scarce resources which need to be allocated among competing groups, and hence the decision-maker has to ensure that all needs and concerns of the different groups are taken into consideration when making the decision.
Since most decisions involve some emotional component as well, the decision-makers have to be especially sensitive to the needs of people who are affected by the decisions.
Consensual decision-making ensures that most concerns of the different groups are heard and taken into account. However, in the real world organisations, decision-making by consensus might not be feasible since each group has its own agendas. Hence, the decision-makers have to ensure that the decisions that they make involve some amount of consultation and some amount of overriding the individual agendas. The reason being that though individual concerns can be taken into account, the decision-makers have to keep the organisation’s interests in mind and hence proceed accordingly. This is needed so as to prevent individuals and groups hijacking the decision-making process with their agendas.
In most organisations, it is common for decision-makers to elicit as much information as possible from the individuals, and then only take the decision so as to provide balance and grievance-redressal to the affected parties.
As this article has discussed, conflicts are inevitable when decisions are taken; and the best way to deal with conflicts is to resolve them to the aggrieved parties’ satisfaction. However, this is easier said than done in this competitive world, where nobody is willing to lose out on lucrative resources and forego their chances.
So, it takes quite a bit of skill and managerial abilities – not to mention leadership traits – to ensure that the decisions result in amicable settlements among the competing groups. The point here is that while it is not possible to please everybody, it is possible to give them a fair hearing and be patient with them so as to give an impression of consensual decision-making.
In extreme cases when the competing groups do not agree or abide with the decision, it is left to higher-ups in the organization to play the role of peacemakers. This is the process of appeal to senior management as part of the concerns and grievance-redressal. This is an essential component of the decision-making process in organisations, and only when there is active recourse to appeal can true decision-making work.