Roles in group decisions
I ended the article in the last issue of Revista BIZ by writing that, in group decisions, the clarity of roles is crucial. Roles in a team are not fixed, they change for every decision. The consulting firm Bain & Company designed a model that describes the roles in a group decision and patented it under the acronym RAPID. The letters mean Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input and Decide, and the order is not necessarily the one encountered in reality. But the acronym IRADP probably would not have had the same success.
Recommend. Those with this role should investigate the context and then provide alternatives and a solution recommendation. They need to gather Input from those with experience in the field and the implementation team and then to incorporate it into the final proposal.
Also, those in the Recommend group must obtain the approval of those who have the right of veto. Then they must prepare the decision meeting. McKinsey noticed an effective decision-making procedure for one of their clients and now advises all clients to follow it:
there should be a single person responsible for preparing the meeting, who should send in advance to all participants a short document including a description of the problem, alternative solutions, relevant information about these alternatives, and a recommended solution, explaining the associated risks. This person must present the recommendation during the meeting.
After attending many decision-making meetings about starting (or not) new projects, a manager at a large technology company shared with me the insight that, often, a little stuttering can bury a project. Those who present a recommendation should develop their public speaking skills, repeat the night before, and make sure they know how to answer to any question.
Agree. This role belongs to those who have the right to veto the solution adopted, usually people from the legal department, the procurement department or heads of departments which are affected by the proposed solution. Those within the Recommend group must consult and convince the Agree group before proposing a solution.
This step can lead to disputes, especially when the protagonists are in different hierarchical positions. Many organizations have adopted the “competence beats hierarchy” principle to allow lower-level employees to perform their roles well, even in disputes with hierarchically superior colleagues. Finally, a possible dispute between those from Recommend group and from Agree group can be resolved through a negotiated solution or through arbitration by the Decide group.
Perform. This role belongs to the production team or even an external partner. In smaller decision-making environments, it may happen that those from Recommend group also have a Perform role. However, when there is no such overlap, it’s good that those from Perform group to be consulted before any proposal is made. Often, in large organizations, those in the office never communicate with those in the factory. Or those in headquarters never communicate with those in the field. Thus, valuable information from the field never reaches the decision table.
Input. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, this role is for those who can provide valuable information about the context of the decision. The role is not limited to the implementation team. Although the roles described in the RAPID model are usually from the same organization, the role of Input may also have external production partners, communication agencies or market research firms.
Decide. Although the RAPID model is designed for group decisions, Bain recommendation is that the final decision be made by one person, usually the team leader. This person must be able to successfully perform three different functions: to take responsibility for the decision, to mediate possible disputes and, in the implementation phase, to ensure the support of the entire organization. In an article in HBR about the RAPID model, two partners from Bain & Company, Paul Rogers and Marcia W. Blenko, show that two opposite types of problems can arise regarding the Deciding role.
The most common, which occurs especially in power-based organizations, is that two or more people can believe that they have this role. The other one is that no one wants to take on this role, especially when it comes to complicated decisions. Obviously, both lead to deadlock. A clear definition of roles, well communicated in the organization and understood by all involved, can prevent such problems.
Roles in the RAPID model may overlap (the same person may have multiple roles), but they must be well defined. In short, I can have one, two or more roles, but not one and a half. In a series of similar decisions, team members may retain roles from one decision to the next, but when a new context arises, new roles should be designated, assumed, and understood by all involved. And, very importantly, the roles are personal. That is, the role belongs to a certain manager, not to the department in which he works.
Implementing such a system in an organization seems simple, but it’s not. The key would be: those who will use this system of group-decision to be involved in its designing. Theoretically, I think the fact that group decision-making roles need to be clear seems common sense, something we’re already doing pretty well. Let’s do two short exercises to see if this is really the case:
1. Think about a recent group decision in which you had the deciding role. Make a list of the other roles as they were in reality, even if they had blurred outlines. A person may have had several roles. Then make a list of role distribution thinking that the RAPID decision system is already implemented in the organization. What would be the difference? What would you change in the next decision?
2. Think about a recent group decision in which you did NOT have the role of decision. Write down exactly what your role was (your roles) and then make a list of all the roles involved, as you perceived them. Then write how you think the roles would have been distributed if your organization had implemented the RAPID system. What would be the difference? How can you influence the team or organization to adopt a clear group decision system? What would be a first step?
Radu Atanasiu teaches Thinking and Deciding in Business at the Maastricht School of Management Romania. Enrollments for the 11th Executive MBA cohort (one and a half years, one of two weekends, starting on November 13, 2020) and for the 12th Fast Track cohort (short program – 4 months, in Romanian, one of two weekends, starting on October 9, 2020) are in full swing, details on msmromania.org.