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Keeping a shared decision log

This post is my personal takeaway from the chapter “Keeping a shared decision log” from Rob Lennon’s amazing book 10X culture.

If you manage a team, you see recurring challenges coming from the same source: the complexity of processing an overwhelming amount of information.

Considering the large amounts of data disbursed across people and tools, you would think it’s an impossibility to achieve a state of being adaptable, networked, and operational.

The usual scenario is ending up with a triangle of choices that looks like this:

A shift in how the team approaches decision making will make this much easier to handle. This is when a shared decision log comes in handy.

Jeff Weinstein, product lead at Stripe, had a very interesting Twitter thread reflecting on his career, and I thought this particular tweet stood out:

Some things are so well done internally that it’s impossible to imagine that a “boss” assigned it to an “employee”. Someone on their own decided to make it great.

Loving this.

In order to figure out the best approach to decision-making that optimizes for speed and decentralization, we have to take this approach.

Even more so, we have to ask ourselves these questions:

  • How can we empower more people to make their own decisions without having to seek permission first?
  • How can we reduce the number of people involved in each decision?
  • When your information is generated how do we encourage past decisions to be reassessed and adjusted?

In 10X Culture, the author steals an idea from product design – the spec.

A spec is usually a document that outlines what an engineer is going to build.

In most times, edge cases get left out of the spec because they aren’t immediately noticed – or downvoted on purpose.

A good engineer though, who is working within a team that operates under a shared consciousness, knows that these edge cases are important and they fill in those gaps on their own.

Empowering people through decision making

Now, let’s focus back on the main idea of this article: How to empower people to make decisions that relate to their work and expand on it.

Here is the rule: if you think it’s necessary to make a decision, you make it.

You don’t even need to mention it to anyone if you don’t think you need to.

But if it’s an important decision, you have to write it down along with:

  • future review dates to compare
  • what do you expect it to happen
  • the actual outcome

This is the core of the decision log.

Look at it as a tool to help finish each other’s sentences.

How to use the decision log

In my team, we share our logs in meetings with the goal of building horizontal awareness over time.

Basically, we take centralized decision-making and decentralize it through a decision log. That enables our team to increase tempo and output without sacrificing alignment.

Here’s a high-level look. We use Notion for this.

decision log

A decision log also powers up another trait of amazing work: autonomy.

And if there’s something specific that I really want to encourage in our team culture it’s autonomy.

One of the biggest reasons this is something important for me is because many companies actually discourage this. Whether intentional or not, you see this often.

I see it as a method dating back to the industrial revolution – historically, the manager made all the important decisions and held all the knowledge, but in an agile marketing structure, everybody is to some degree both the manager and the worker.

We might not necessarily subscribe to that old fashion way of working, but we probably still believe that decisions, especially important ones, need to come from the top to bottom.

Even if those same higher-ups are not the best informed to be making those decisions.

Which is usually the case.

As a manager, I used to be operational in what I am specialized in, but now I mostly work with people. The people I manage are the subject matter experts.

What are the chances that I’m going to say no to a suggestion by an expert?


Developing a great culture

So on top of removing all the hoops to jump through for obvious decisions, having a decision log allows our team to see how each member thinks. By having to write out the rationale behind your decision, you expose each other to not just a decision, but also the thought process behind it.

In order to develop a great culture, teams need to empower every member to be able to make any decision they feel they should be able to make on their own – without approval.

The caveat is: all decisions must be logged publicly, along with the following information:

  1. The rationale behind a decision
  2. The expected outcome
  3. How the team member feels about the situation
  4. A date to revisit the decision and see what happened.

Through this process we begin to identify biases in our thought process, thus making us more effective in decision-making.

A decision log is an example of proactive sharing, a communication strategy that enables everyone to be in the know.

Instead of waiting for information to come to you, you can empower everyone with information they didn’t even know they needed to learn.

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