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How to Include Employees in Decision-Making

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 A woman business professional is seated on a desk talking to two women team members. They are having an involved discussion.

To involve employees in decision-making, specify the results you want to achieve upfront, be selective about whom you involve, and encourage collaboration and creativity. — Getty Images/Luis Alvarez

One of the benefits of fostering an inclusive, diverse, and collaborative work culture is increased innovation. When people of different backgrounds and perspectives come together to make a decision, it often leads to an outside-the-box approach that can spur growth.

However, too many cooks in the kitchen can also lead to decision paralysis. Small business owners benefit from instituting a system to include employees in decision-making without getting sidetracked.

Choose the right type of decision

For the sake of efficiency, not all decisions should be reached by consensus. Research from McKinsey categorized decisions into three types: big-bet, cross-cutting, and delegated decisions.

  • Big bets: Infrequent, high-stakes decisions with the potential to shape the future of your business.
  • Cross-cutting decisions: Broad in scope but more frequent, often consisting of smaller decisions made in different parts of the company (such as a pricing decision).
  • Delegated decisions: Frequent decisions that are narrow and effectively handled by an individual or team with limited input from others.

McKinsey reported that organizations that can make decisions at the “right level” see the best results. “When respondents say decisions are made at the right level—which, in many cases, means delegating decisions down to lower levels of the organization—they are 6.8 times more likely to be part of a winning company,” wrote the consulting firm.

In practice, this means being selective about who is invited to certain decision processes. A chief financial officer, for instance, does not need to weigh in about delegated decisions within the accounting team. Keep your groups collaborative but nimble.


Invite employees from different functions and of different levels of seniority to make sure you’re getting a wealth of perspectives.

Set the tone

It’s important to create an environment that fosters open communication and empowers team members to contribute. “Many group decision-making meetings are doomed before they begin,” wrote Slack. “Unclear roles, missing information, and a general lack of team alignment can all foil the decision-making process.”

It takes organization to make your decision-making process a success. Prepare for your meeting (or series of meetings) by providing key information in advance and asking everyone to bring ideas and proposed solutions. Invite employees from different functions and of different levels of seniority to make sure you’re getting a wealth of perspectives. Just make sure that everyone feels encouraged to speak — not just senior leaders.

[Read more: 5 Decision-Making Techniques That Will Help You Run a Better Business]

Work backward from a common goal

Define the parameters for your decision-making process by stating the result you want to achieve. Then, ask your employees for their input on how to reach that goal.

“An early brainstorming session among team members clues employees in to effective paths to take. You may have a vision for how you want something executed, but your team members may have more creative and efficient ways to complete a task,” wrote the experts at Wharton Business School.

Stating the ideal outcome helps everyone stay focused during a brainstorming meeting. Likewise, it also gives employees a sense of ownership over their work. By enabling your team to contribute their ideas for reaching a result, they can pursue a strategy that plays to their strengths.

Provide ways to contribute asynchronously

Not all employees feel comfortable speaking up in a live meeting. Likewise, some of your employees may work remotely — meaning they won’t even be in the room when decisions are made. Consider offering a way for people to contribute their ideas anonymously or asynchronously, such as through an anonymous survey or a digital suggestion box.

It’s also helpful to use these tools following a decision-making meeting to prevent groupthink. Although we’re wired to follow the crowd, the first idea isn’t always the best idea. Use feedback surveys and smaller follow-up sessions to challenge ideas and give everyone a chance to think critically.

Acknowledge employees who contribute

Positive feedback can go a long way toward improving decision-making at your business. It may be that the decision that is reached is not right for your business. Don’t punish employees — rather, make it a teachable moment for everyone involved (including senior leaders).

And when you see a job well done, say so. Reinforce a culture of collaboration and creative thinking by acknowledging every time someone contributes.

Lastly, don’t include employees in decision-making if you won’t be taking their ideas seriously. Make sure you and your managers are ready and willing to delegate before asking for input.

[Read more: 5 Processes to Help You Tackle Tough Business Decisions]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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Emily Heaslip

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