Decision Making in a Heirarchy

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Part Two: Decision Making

Please note that this is the second part of
another paper.  I reprint it here because
this section seems of such interest.
Also here I include a chart on decision-making.

Looking through the lens of dialogue, and using the concepts of relational paradigm as a reference, allows for a fresh perspective on the purpose of hierarchy.

What I have come to realize is that a hierarchy is an organizational compromise between the community’s need for decision making and their need for dialogical diversity – the sharing of the multiple points of view present in the community.  A group of people have many different points of view. They can share them endlessly.  Yet decisions need to be made. And so…..

Decisions are not dialogical

I believe that decisions are not made by groups, they are made by individuals.  Groups seem to provide a context where personal decisions are made and reviewed, but I think it is the individuals who make all those decisions.  One phrase I heard at a business retreat this summer helped me see this.  “People get together and dialogue, and then they go out and vote.”  Thus, I see that decisions are ultimately personal — and that is normal. I call it autonomy. 

I believe that when a group needs a decision made, no matter whether the group shares data via votes or polls or dialogues, ultimately some individual’s decision must become "ratified" by the group — forming a functional hierarchy.

Never Can Make a Right Decision

As an old timer in the field of Program and Project Management, I have come to believe that one can never make the right decision.  The term “right decision” is to me happily symbiotic, assuming that there really is such a thing.   For a working definition, I think that the closest one can come to a “right” decision is a decision that you look back on much later and believe was a good decision.  Using the concept of PreValidation, we can even arrive at the idea that all decisions are, in a special/unique way, right.  By definition, each decision is the best that a person can make at that time.

Thus the phrase or impulse to tell someone that they made a “wrong” decision seems invalidating.  I believe that if you think someone made a “wrong” decision, you are uninformed.  You will always disagree with every decision made by others, at some level.  I believe that to say that others are “wrong” is both to let your personal symbiosis hang out there, and to be invalidating of them (read “rude”).  On the other hand to say, “I don’t agree” is to invite dialogue and the sharing of more data which is useful to the next round of decision making.

I like to remain dialogical or Conscious and use a couple of humorous phrases.  “Any decision I make will be ‘wrong’ as soon as I make it, and tell my neighbors about it.”   Another humorous saying is, “If a man is alone in a forest, is he still wrong?”


For me the most critical element in decision making is not rightness or wrongness, but WHEN that the decision has to be made.  I see a decision as elementally a time function.  I think of it as an act or expression of best judgment at a specific time.   That best judgment will be based on all the data available to the decision-maker at that time.  It will not be based on data that the decision-maker does not yet have. 

Decisions will be based at least partially on unconscious data which the decision-maker cannot recall and may not be able to put into words.  As I understand it, the human cortex functions differentially – left and right hemisphere.  I’ve come to see that the left hemisphere of most brains acts as a giant single computer proceeding logically from step to step. I see the right hemisphere as more of a mass of smaller computers, 10s of thousands of them, which provide hunches in a kind of “voting” system.  “This is what I think I should do, but my hunch is that this is somehow wrong.”  Many decisions are made based on hunch, guess, instinct, etc. alone.

After the decision maker makes that decision, data continues to flow in.  Two types of data interest me: stuff not available at the time of the decision, and information about the reaction of others to the decision that was made.

Decisional Cycles: Never Cast in Stone  “I chose Door #1, No! #2 No wait! #3. Oops! #1”

Since a decision is in some way required by the situation presented, and since decisions are often “wrong” based on new data not available at the time, I believe that a conscious, competent decision-maker is ready to change their decision. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that a conscious decision maker is ready to make a new decision based on the new circumstances/data.   If their focus is on the goal of making the best decision for the situation, I believe this is easy.  If their goal is to be “right”, on maintaining their “credibility as an authority” I think this is more difficult.

I’ve really come to like the phrase, “Action, followed by Reflection, followed by Action, followed by Reflection.”

Points of View, Football

When I go to a stadium to watch a game of I am always acutely aware of the two groups of people present: the players and the spectators.  When I first learned General Semantics in 1973 the distinction between these two groups was made clear.

Players can move the ball.  They can run, block, throw, catch.  They act. But their view of the field is limited.  I invite all you ex-football, soccer, baseball players, to recall what it was like to be down on that grass and to look across the field when 10 players were between you and what you wanted to see. 

Spectators can see what is going on.  They have excellent seats.  But they cannot move the ball.  They understand but cannot “make happen.”   I invite all you spectators to reflect on how often you have yelled, “Watch out!!” but the player didn’t see the trouble.

So to make the teams play very efficiently, the coach walks on the sidelines, gets input from spotters in the stands, and directs the players.  Functional hierarchy at work.

Getting the View

Mark Chidley, a member of the Peace Project, reminded me of how important getting to a place where you can view a lot.  In the Navy, most decisions on a ship are made either on the bridge (where you command a great view) or in CIC (where you have the maximum flow of data).  What makes for higher or lower quality decisions, I think, is the amount of data available at the time the decision must be made.  Of course, dialogue is one of the best ways to get good reliable data.

A Best Decision-Making Process?

Perhaps the way to improve quality of decisions is to:

  1. determine when the decision has to be made and make the decision as late as you can so that you can gather as much data as possible,
  2. get into as much communication as possible before that decision-making time,
  3. fearlessly make the decision knowing it is the best you can do at that time,
  4. prepare to enter an evaluative and reflective period after the decision is made before the next decision cycle.   



To see the rest of this paper click here.

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