The 3 biggest obstacles to clear decision-making and how to navigate them

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Written by Achieve Breakthrough

The 3 biggest obstacles to clear decision-making and how to navigate them

A decision is a cognitive process where we choose an action or suite of actions from multiple options. In principle, simple. Practically, it’s often painful.

This is usually due to one of three factors affecting the decision: people, process or structure. Take a moment to think back on two business decisions that you found difficult to make recently for your business or within your team.

  1. What made them tough? How were opposing views handled? What was the eventual outcome? Maybe individuals couldn’t seem to agree on the project (People). Perhaps they were left unaware who the decision maker was (Process). Or maybe it wasn’t even clear how the decision was going to be made (Structure).

We explore how people, process, or structure are invariably the biggest roadblocks in the way of clear decision-making, and how to navigate them.



Your people are a treasure trove of different perspectives and ideas. But when that variety of opinion comes into direct conflict with the decisions you’re looking to make, you have a problem. The way you choose to prepare for or resolve that difference of opinion will determine the success of what you set out to do. 

If you’re coming up against people problems when making decisions, here’s what we’d recommend:

  1. 1. Champion inquiry

Let people share ideas, issues and concerns before you begin forming a strategy. Firstly this can lead to a better solution than you’d ever come up with alone, and secondly it can help individuals to feel heard around change. Co-creation, after all, is the ultimate buy-in.

  1. 2. Avoid plain advocacy

Typically though, business leaders start with advocacy. In other words, they tend to state their views directly and then persuade others to follow. 

Advocacy can be done well of course, as long as you’re open to being influenced by other stakeholders. But in plain, unadorned advocacy you share data to illustrate your conclusions or offer examples to convince and persuade stakeholders. 

If you usually do this, add some radical candour into the equation. Take the plunge into authenticity and be clear on your reasons, admit your motivations and share your concerns. You will take people with you. And faster.  

Leaders who thrive in this space love to get under the bonnet. They coach the conversation, host open ended dialogue, challenge and invite feedback. By coming to their team without a fixed decision you invite co-creation and trust. Granted, there’s still an element of persuasion, but it’s a two-way street and you gain as much as you give. Maybe more.  

  1. 3. You might like surprises, your people might not

There was one CEO of a forward-thinking energy company who was looking to make a large structural change in his organisation. In many ways this would move the business up a gear, and the CEO was hoping he’d be able to inspire people to get behind the shift. 

He kept his cards close to his chest until he unveiled the plans in an Apple style presentation to the rest of the company. And to say it went badly was an understatement. People left in tears, unsure whether they would still have a job after the restructure. 

In the right context, launching a new product for instance, this surprise presentation could have been the right way to go. But in the context – a significant structure change – it was ill advised.

Here, hosting focus groups first might have made the plans more likely to succeed. Inviting on-the-ground feedback wouldn’t necessarily mean letting opinions kill the possibility of change. But this kind of collaboration is like dropping a stone in a pool: it helps us to understand the effect of the ripples and confront our own assessments about people before we make major decisions that affect them. 



The processes behind decisions go awry when you don’t know the answers to crucial questions.

For example, if you’ve spoken about a pay rise but don’t have the details of What, Why, Who, How and When, it can cause stress and confusion even though it’s a positive change – so it pays to be 100% clear.

  1. 1. What will happen and what will define it as a success? This is about establishing priorities, what you will tackle in the process and what is beyond your scope. 
  2. 2. Why are you making a decision? Does it solve a business need and what is at stake if the decision is not made? Your ‘why’ doesn’t need to be data driven. It can simply mean standing up for what matters to you, your people, or the wider world.
  3. 3. Who is the decision-maker here? Is it an opportunity for co-creation or will the decision be made, ultimately, by the CEO or director of a department?
  4. 4. How will the decision be made or how was it made? What scope is there for the decision to be influenced by team members or other stakeholders?
  5. 5. When will everything take place? Here you need crystal clear transparency in your communication and language. If anything is changed, delayed, or revoked all stakeholders must be kept up to date.

Ensuring you have answers to these questions and fleshing those answers out fully will ensure that there aren’t any gaps in your decision-making process. However, it’s also worth recognising that process only gets you so far. You also need to recognise and respond to the context you are in.



Problems with structure occur when the answer to your ‘How’ is not best suited to the context. 

In general, you have three options:

  1. 1. Leader decides. Sometimes it is okay to mandate a decision. This minimises potential problems in simple operational matters where consulting would be a waste of time and resource. Especially if buy-in is unlikely to be an issue. 
  2. 2. Team decides. This can increase efficiency from the get-go by letting your team make a decision and share ownership of the outcome. This is an effective approach if collective commitment is going to be a key factor in a project’s success.

The danger here is that too many voices can result in a horse built by a committee. When collaboration turns into an attempt to please everyone, innovation can suffer and the outcome might not be fit for purpose.

  1. 3. Co-strategic decisions. This is where a leader moves towards consulting stakeholders with a mix of advocacy and inquiry. This way the greatest asset you have, your people, can feel seen and heard, but key decision makers can still make the final call. 

Looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible? Get in touch to explore how we can help ignite your ambitions.



Published 14/05/2024

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