Decision making & the collaboration continuum

When my colleagues and I create a developmental assessment, we make a deep (and never ending) study of how the skills and knowledge targeted by that assessment develop over time. The research involves identifying key concepts and skills and studying their evolution on the Lectical Scale (our developmental scale). The collaboration continuum has emerged from this research.

Many people seem to think of decision making as either top-down or collaborative, and tend to prefer one over the other. But several thousand decision-making leaders have taught us that this is a false dichotomy. From them, we’ve learned two things. First, there is no clear-cut division between autocratic and collaborative decision making—it’s more of a continuum. And second, both more autocratic and more collaborative decision making processes have legitimate applications.

As it applies to decision making, the collaboration continuum is a scale that runs from fully autocratic to consensus-based. We find it helpful to divide the continuum into 7 relatively distinct levels, as shown below:

As the table above shows, all 7 forms of decision making on the collaboration continuum have legitimate applications. And all can be learned in any adult developmental level. However, the most effective application of each successive form of decision making requires more developed skills. Inclusive, consent, and consensus decision making are particularly demanding, and generally require formal training for all participating parties.

The most developmentally advanced and accomplished leaders who have taken our assessments deftly employ all 7 forms of decision making, basing the form chosen for a particular situation on factors like timeline, decision purpose, and stakeholder characteristics.

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