How IT Leaders Can Empower Teams to Become Decision-Makers

Most managers want their team members to be more proactive when it comes to making decisions. IT Team leaders at any level can use a 'Tree Decision Rights' model to identify different types of decisions and then work with their team members to empower them to take on more decision-making responsibly.

By Bob Kantor
Mon, May 06, 2013

CIO — Most managers want their team members to do more on their own, to be more proactive when it comes to making decisions and taking action, rather than always waiting for direction. If you're a manager seeking such results, you can use the "Tree Decision Rights" model, a simple tool based on the four parts of a growing tree.

There are two benefits to using a simple decision rights model. One is to connect people with the power they have to be able to do everything they should be able to do within their roles. The second is to clarify for everyone, "who is responsible for what", or who has authority to make what form of decisions.

Another decision rights model called RACI, stands for the four core roles in a process-based model, Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. When dealing with decision rights around processes, the RACI framework is very useful. When talking about decision rights around people, however, something simpler that takes a look at the impact of the decision, and the potential to revise the decision, gives us a more useful framework.

The Decision 'Type' Framework

One metaphor for this framework is to think of a tree as having a set of roots that anchor it, a trunk that supports it, branches that are ancillary structures, and leaves on those branches. So we have roots, trunk, branches and leaves.

In terms of impact, if a tree loses its leaves, that's generally a minor impact. So what kinds of decisions or choices might you equate to the leaves on a tree, in that if someone makes a decision that is either wrong or not optimal, the impact is relatively minor or neutral?

A tree can frequently lose many branches with relatively minor impact. There is the trunk, which could arguably include major branches. If a major branch was to split or the trunk were to split, that could be catastrophic for the health of the tree. Finally, there are the roots, which are the fundamental anchor for the tree itself. Anything that compromises the integrity of the roots results in the death of the tree.

In terms of practical application, first look at the kinds of roles and responsibilities that your people have. Look at your security lead, your applications lead, your infrastructure lead and so on.

Within each one of those domains, there are going to be types of decisions that are foundational, meaning that they are roots where you cannot tolerate an error. And then there are trunk and major branch-type decisions where you might be able to tolerate one or two errors, but the impact would be significant and take time from which to recover.

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