Decision-Making and Rusty Tin Man

Decision-making is the fundamental cornerstone of any organization. Sound decisions keep companies going, while ill decisions entail grave consequences, often revealing themselves as such only in retrospect. No wonder that organizations strive to groom their decision-making processes, and today I would like to highlight a quite common disconnect, observed not only in software development companies, but in all kinds of organizations, municipal and government bodies included.

Consider the dual bundle of competent decision-making vs. decision-making process. Which one is of more importance, ultimately? Of course, competent decision-making. Whoever is supposed to take a decision, an individual or a group, has to qualify as a competent authority. What would that stand for? The collective wisdom of the group, as well as the decision-making model, has to work to the good of the whole company. However, at times we encounter situations when a decision-making process lacks flexibility and blocks important strategic decisions. There’s a subtle edge here: on the one hand, it’s only reasonable to bring diverse opinions to the table and to hear all possible points of view. But what if a decision-making process, run by a group of people, does not actually facilitate the quality of decisions but rather impedes the go-ahead on them?

Passing on the too touchy modernity, I’ll use an example from less controversial times. Well, each epoch has its controversies, but anyway. Let’s look as far back as into the history of Poland, the 18th century. I remember this story from my teen years, as I used to read a lot on European history; and what happened to Poland in the 18th century still strikes me as a very unfortunate outcome. Poland was a monarchy, and they had their parliament (Sejm) as the decision-making authority to elect kings. They were sticking with the majority vote principle at first, but eventually switched to the decision-making mode of unanimity and liberum veto (Latin for “I freely forbid”). Any broke nobleman who welcomed an extra chunk of gold — or unlimited drinks, for that matter — had the power to paralyze the decisions of parliament.

Constitution of May 3, 1791. — A painting by Jan Matejko (credit)

And, those nobles would block and block the bills and the candidates for the Crown of Poland continuously by exercising their “liberum veto” right. Imagine how a country with such a flawed decision-making process could end up. This story has a very sad ending. Poland was partitioned by its craving neighbours: Austria, Prussia, and Russia. As you can see, sacrificing competent decision-making to a “by-the-book” decision-making process cost independence to the whole country.

Which lessons can we derive from this story as related to the challenges that organizations are dealing with today? Never mistake decision-making process for competent decision-making. As with this example from the history of Poland, the point was not about making each and every nobleman cast his vote. The Sejm had to change their way of making decisions. Which they didn’t.

I will not get into the complex subject of how exactly decision-making groups will want to function, and how they will want to cast their votes, and who is supposed to have the liberum veto right, or if such a right ever needs be. This would be a theme for a yet another article or a series of articles. Just stay alert and watch out if decision-making process in your organization is going “rusty” and blocks sensible decisions. Be sure to have the oil can somewhere nearby, and make timely changes. Otherwise, the rust will immobilize your organization, just as the case with Tin Man from the enchanting film “The Wizard of Oz” was:

Further reading:

Organizational arthritis (lack of flexibility)

Sejm of the Republic of Poland


This story has been updated and re-written from one of my earlier articles.