Extraordinary Team Blog

Whether You Believe It or Not, No Decision is a Decision

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 30, 2008

Andrew Jackson once said, “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”  These are wise words to those who are paralyzed by the pursuit of one more piece of information, a change of market conditions, or a sign from the heavens of the right decision.  I refer to this unfortunate condition as “paralysis by analysis.”

It’s easy to confuse “deliberation” with taking action.  After all, the team comes together, spends time discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each option as well as gathering the appropriate data that justifies or defeats an alternative.  When there is no clear-cut “winner,” it’s fairly easy to defer the decision.  “We’ll discuss this next time we meet.”

Comforted by the knowledge that the team discussed the options, we appear to have made progress.  Alas, no decision was made.  No action was taken.  Or was it?

No decision is, in fact, a decision.  The team has made a decision to do nothing; a decision to stay with the status quo.  Just don’t fool yourselves.  The decision is telling your team something.  The team might:

Be Afraid of the Outcome.  The fear of the unknown paralyzes the team from disrupting the current path and taking a different path.  Rather than choosing a road (less traveled or not . . .), we end up standing still in the middle of the road.

Realize No Benefit.  Taking a different path takes energy!  The team must realize a benefit to making the decision, expending the intellectual, emotional, and capital energy.  So we opt to take the path of least resistance.  Go with the flow.

Not Have Explored All the Possibilities.  Presented with various options, many teams are faced with an “either/or” situation.  There is no room for collaboration, an “and/plus” combination.  In team lingo, we call this a “win-win.”  When presented with options, one option will win, other options will lose.

The team doesn’t even start looking for a win-win.  And nobody likes to lose.  So we just defer decisions.

Sometimes teams face tough choices and unclear outcomes.  It’s impossible to know, with 100 percent accuracy, if they are the correct choices.

Just recognize that no decision is still a decision to do nothing differently.

Question:  Are there times when deferring a decision is the best decision for your team?