How to ensure effective decision making

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Let’s have a show of hands

Fist to five decision making tool

Business leaders are making bad decisions because there is a lack of trust, a non-alignment of incentives and goals, and information overload, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). So how can we ensure effective decision making?

Decision making is a critical process that needs to be understood and continually developed to gain the trust and commitment of everyone participating. This is easier said than done. While some people are happy to contribute their views at meetings, others are less confident, especially if they have doubts about a proposal or feel their questions will be seen as negative. Dominant personalities will prevail with others perhaps putting on a brave face and going along with the majority.

This makes for bad decision making, leads to dissatisfaction, lack of trust and, ultimately, failure of the initiative or project.

When the quality of decision making matters most

Many organisations, particularly partnerships, have a democratic, participative culture that requires consensus decision making – and this requires everyone to be in agreement.  They don’t all have to think it’s the best decision, but they all have to agree they can live with it.

So how do we ensure that everyone’s voice is heard?

When a proposal is put forward it’s really useful to gauge everyone’s level of support at the outset and then seek to resolve concerns or differences through discussion. Many management teams do this by a show of hands, or voting – however, this can create sides or factions and encourages debate rather than dialogue – it can entrench people’s views rather than expand the group’s thinking.


A simple, alternative technique is Fist-to-Five which determines what each individual’s opinion is at any given time.  When the chair-person or group leader outlines a decision or proposal, everyone is asked to show his or her level of support by showing a fist or a number of fingers that corresponds to their opinion at that point.

Everyone contributes

If anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, they are given the opportunity to state their objections or ask questions and the group then seeks to address these concerns. The group continue the Fist-to-Five process until they achieve consensus (a minimum of three fingers or higher) or determine they must move on to the next issue.

Avoiding dead-lock

Fist-to-Five is collaborative and can help avoid dead-lock in decisions, enabling the leader to lead while retaining a sense of personal control and still building consensus in the group. It can lead more group members to support implementation of a proposal or idea.

Dealing with everyone’s questions and concerns also enables everyone to take a wider view when making strategic and business critical decisions.

Involve the right people in decision making

Involving the right people is essential. Wherever possible, try to involve those who will be implementing the decision. This fosters trust and collaboration between different teams and departments and helps break down ‘silo’ mentality. Taking time to share and explain information can also help people make sense of large volumes of data, easing information overload and, thus, ensuring decisions are aligned with the wider business strategy.

Want to see what Fist-to-Five looks like? You can download it above.

If you’re struggling to make decisions and want to ensure your meetings are effective, please contact us for further advice.