I’ve never watched an episode of The West Wing. However, the one thing I do know about it is that it made the scenes of walking and talking famous. In these scenes, which are now ubiquitous amongst US TV dramas, the main character walks towards the camera in a corridor whilst the supporting cast walk alongside asking questions. Decisions are made within the blink of an eye, and then are seamlessly actioned with laser-like precision. Crucially, the characters never forget what they said or ever second-guess their decision.
If you’re thinking this sounds unrealistic, that’s because it is. We all dream of a reality where decision-making flows easily and quickly. However, we mostly get bogged down in who’s decision is who’s, what’s the protocol for making decisions and when to delegate. Forget walking down corridors, making decisions is never simple. That doesn’t mean, however, that decision-making is immune to strategic direction. It’s just that one tool won’t suffice.
Added to this is complexity, some are fast processors, and some are slow processors. That means in the West Wing, if the President was a slow processor, they may need to say “Put that in an email and let me think about it” repeatedly. That doesn’t make for good TV but may be vital for you.
What about ‘gut decisions’? I often hear that many top end business and government leaders rely on their gut for making decisions. This is fine, depending on the gut making the decision. The ‘gut’ links to our in-built moral compass. That compass can be wrong. And if not wrong, it may just be slightly out with the agreed direction of travel for your church. Even if you’ve got a completely aligned gut, the further problem is created in that with gut decisions it’s harder to say why you made that decision, and if you’d make the same decision in the same circumstances. The gut is good, but it doesn’t scale to others making the same decision.
There are many tools that will help you for specific situations, and many that can be adapted from the business world into the church world. We’ve identified three tools that will help you with your decision making:
The decision boat is very simple but powerful. Imagine your church is a boat. With a boat there is a percentage that sits above the waterline, and percentage that sits below the waterline. Decisions above the waterline have the potential to make the boat look bad and cause some damage, but significantly, won’t sink the boat. Decisions made below the waterline will sink the boat. You’ll also have several decisions that sit right on the waterline, so in some circumstances the decision is above, in other circumstances it is below the waterline. Think of all the decisions you need to make and work out your waterline.
If you want to unlock a door to an opportunity, you need to unlock the locks. These locks are so important because they stop every idea getting to your table. You can decide your own locks, but we recommend 5 initial locks of mission, values, strategy, policies and goals. If opportunities don’t align with these, they’re not feasible opportunities.
The decision box is a simple 2x2 matrix that gives the protocol for what decision to make.
It's important to note that this tool is for ministry decisions. At thinking.church we always recommend that your board of trustees are consulted on any major decision, as they will have expertise that will help shape the plan and make good decisions for the charity.
On the x axis is importance (low to high), on the y axis is time (low to high). With this tool, you get to define what constitutes low scope and high scope, and low time and high time. The in each four quadrants you can decide what you want to set as your protocol. Here's what we suggest
When we say something is low scope, we’re not saying it doesn’t matter, what we’re saying is that it is within your remit. For instance, if something is within your budget and doesn’t need signing off to be done, it’s a low-scope decision. When something has the potential to create reputational damage to your church, it becomes a high-scope decision. Low scope decisions may be very important, but they don’t necessitate the gathering of your team to make the decision.
When time is short, a decision needs to be made, then and there. There’s not enough time to go to your team and discuss. That’s why for low time decisions we recommend that decisions of low scope should be made by the leader (with the leader documenting the process for accountability), but high scope decisions should be made by a snap team majority vote. Thankfully, most decisions don’t fall into that category, they fall into the high time decisions, which means that you have the opportunity to delegate the decision making or to gain consensus before proceeding. How you define what constitutes low time and high time is up to you. A church I was working this through with said that under one week would constitute a low-time decision, everything else is high time.
We know there are many more tools than these, depending on the situation. We’d love to hear which tools you use for decision-making. If you need help implementing decision-making systems, we provide on-site facilitation. Just contact us on email@example.com to find out more.