Lectical Scale (our developmental scale). The collaboration continuum has emerged from this research.
Many people seem to think of decision making as either top-down or collaborative, and tend to prefer one over the other. But several thousand decision-making leaders have taught us that this is a false dichotomy. We’ve learned two things. First, there is no clear-cut division between autocratic and collaborative decision making—it’s a continuum. And second, both more autocratic and more collaborative decision making processes have legitimate applications.
As it applies to decision making, the collaboration continuum is a scale that runs from fully autocratic to consensus-based. We find it helpful to divide the continuum into 7 relatively distinct levels, as shown below:
|Level||Basis for decision||Applications||Limitations|
|Fully autocratic||personal knowledge or rules, no consideration of other perspectives||everyday operational decisions where there are clear rules and no apparent conflicts||quick and efficient|
|Autocratic||personal knowledge, with some consideration of others' perspectives (no perspective seeking)||operational decisions in which conflicts are already well-understood and trust is high||quick and efficient, but spends trust, so should be used with care|
|Consulting||personal knowledge, with perspective-seeking to help people feel heard||operational decisions in which the perspectives of well-known stakeholders are in conflict and trust needs reinforcement||time consuming, but can build trust if not abused|
|Inclusive||personal knowledge, with perspective seeking to inform a decision||operational or policy decisions in which the perspectives of stakeholders are required to formulate a decision||time consuming, but improves decisions and builds engagement|
|Compromise-focused||leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that gives everyone something they want||making "deals" to which all stakeholders must agree||time consuming, but necessary in deal-making situations|
|Consent-focused||leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that everyone can consent to (even though there may be reservations)||policy decisions in which the perspectives of stakeholders are required to formulate a decision||can be efficient, but requires excellent facilitation skills and training for all parties|
|Consensus-focused||leverages stakeholder perspectives to develop a decision that everyone can agree with.||decisions in which complete agreement is required to formulate a decision||requires strong relationships, useful primarily when decision-makers are equal partners|
As the table above shows, all 7 forms of decision making on the collaboration continuum have legitimate applications. And all can be learned in any adult developmental level. However, the most effective application of each successive form of decision making requires more developed skills. Inclusive, consent, and consensus decision making are particularly demanding, and generally require formal training for all participating parties.
The most developmentally advanced and accomplished leaders who have taken our assessments deftly employ all 7 forms of decision making, basing the form chosen for a particular situation on factors like timeline, decision purpose, and stakeholder characteristics.
(The feedback in our LDMA [leadership decision making] assessment report provides learning suggestions for building collaboration continuum skills. And our Certified Consultants can offer specific practices, tailored for your learning needs, that support the development of these skills.)