friday reflections

The Games inDecision Makers Play

Merrygoround_2 “You'll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision” - David Mahoney


Deciding not to decide, in such a way that people do not notice, is an art. Here are seven games that are occasionally played in the courtyards of corporations when it comes to postponing decisions or derailing meetings:

Game 1: Ask for “more data”

A meeting is going on between the employees of a components supplier to review a major customer’s new requirements. The customer has asked for a one-day response on Failure Analysis (FA) of returned samples. The director of FA presents his current FA response time: 76 days.

Another director raises his hand and asks, “Does it (your data) include the weekends?

Game 2: Throw (irrelevant) monkey wrenches

Ideally, create more work by claiming that there is “insufficient analysis” or by asking, “Have you looked into such-and-such area?” (However irrelevant it may be to the subject.) Other popular monkey wrenches are to claim, “We don’t have the authority” or to suggest that the decision be taken off-line for further discussion (even if the decision can easily be made on the spot.)

Game 3: We need to run this by so-and-so

Of course, that “so-and-so person” is not in the meeting, otherwise it would defeat the purpose of the game.

Game 4: Let people who have no skin in the game be directly involved in playing it

Involve a lot more people than needed for the decision. Then, try to arrive at a consensus with all of these people. A great example: instead of telling ancillary groups what specific things you need from them, bring them into the mainstream decision making process. In a sports analogy, this would be equivalent to a tennis player asking the ball boy to make the next serve, or a football quarterback asking the cheerleader to call the next play.

Game 5: It should not have happened in the first place

With the first sign of a problem, start questioning the sound long-term direction, perform name-calling, and begin the hunt for scapegoats. Spend time lamenting over the problem instead of spending time looking for the solution.

Game 6: Ping Pong Diplomacy (Agree with everything)

Even though the proposals and ideas may be diametrically opposite in approach or intended outcome, the team leader keeps agreeing with all parties: “Good idea” “Excellent Proposal”. Here’s  how this game (sort of) works:

Jerry’s proposal says, “New York is in the East.”  The team leader (supposed to be the decision maker) says, “You are right.”  Jack’s proposal says, “New York is in the West.” The team leader says, “You are right.”  Confused, Tim asks, “How can it be both?” The team leader says, “You are right.”

Now if someone is bold enough to question this further, the team leader would say, “Well, it depends where you are in the world. If you are in San Francisco then New York is in the East, and if you are in London then New York is in the West.”  But the point of the story is that decisions are not made by starting such irrelevant discussions - in reality you’re all sitting in Denver, so the answer should be obvious.

Game 7: Start a task force to improve the decision making process

Ideally, to improve the “decision making process”, have well known inDecision makers run it (and/or be the primary members).

Reflection: Many of us have played these games – as victims and perpetrators. An awareness of them is crucial to calling this behavior out and getting things done.  Challenge the indecision makers!



Yeh, Have seen all these games played before and now in the courts of my corporation.

I wonder if sometimes we are playing these games without even realizing it, and without recognizing how much damage it can do to our business.
I believe the CAIRO model for decision making/meeting organization is a good tool to help mitigate these games. It ensures that roles in and methods of decision making are understood in advance. Sounds simple but it takes effort for preparation. (CAIRO - Consult, Approve, Inform, Responsible, Out of the Loop).

Ouch! I've seen many of these games sink software development requirements gathering efforts. To me, game #4 is the number one cause of scope-creep.

Sometimes, well-intentioned blowhards get carried away with games #1 and #2, leading to missing requirements the freeze date, and knocking out the rest of the schedule (for ultimately irrelevant concerns).

If these are allowed to happen, you better count on spending a lot of time playing game #5 and #7, which are an even bigger waste of time!

However, no use whining about it. Strong leadership is required from the Analyst and the PM to nip these games in the bud. The first step to solving the problem is to recognize the problem...

Late prime minister Narsih Rao, when taunted that he was indecisive even in critical matters, used to say proudly that not taking a decision itself was a major decision.

India's many huge projects running into billions of dollars have not yet even started after over a decade. They all fall into 7 categories detailed by you.

Dr. Manmohan Singh is fond of appointing committees, high power committes group of ministers action committees etc., etc. In most of the cases, it is postponing a decision.


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