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Top-Down Decision Making Is Old School
People naturally resist unilateral decisions that affect them. We all prefer to have some say and opinion when it comes to decisions we must live with. Without input or involvement from others, decisions become mandates rather than smart choices for problems. This is common in organizations where top-down decisions remain the preferred style of decision-making.
Top-down decisions can occur at the project, team, or enterprise level. Their advantages are clear-cut: they can be made more quickly, they eliminate confusion and unnecessary disagreement, and they allow the most experienced team members to apply their judgment to the benefit of those with less seasoning.
The thought is that decision quality is at its peak when major decisions are made by the most tenured team leaders. Wisdom, after all, is in short supply. Allowing the wisest leaders to make the call seems like a no-brainer — except for those who have to live with and execute the decision.
Those below rightfully challenge that wisdom is consolidated at the top of the team or organization. They point to substantial evidence that those on the ground, closest to the problem or issue, often have the best insight about how to approach the challenge. Leaving them to only hear about the decision later seems ludicrous. Perhaps, a bottom-up decision style would provide more benefits to the team and organization.
The reality is that most effective organizations use a hybrid approach that falls somewhere between top-down and bottom-up. The most senior leaders frame or state the problem and then turn it over to those most impacted by the issue.
Through a series of collaborative discussions and fact-finding, a decision proposal starts to take shape. Experienced leaders then work with this recommendation and shape it to fit within the larger strategy and the resources available.
Even when a top-down decision is required due to time constraints, effective leaders are cautious about making any choice without socializing it first. They know that the quality of any decision is only as good as its execution. Top-down decisions are rarely executed with vigor and focus.
Reserving big decisions for those with big titles is a throwback to the autocratic organizations of the past. Those closer to the ground or action are known to have a better vantage from which to see the pitfalls and practical issues that will make or break a strategic choice.
Using the advantages of both top-down and bottom-up processes makes the most sense for the contemporary workplace. When it comes to decision-making, a combination works best.