The 4 models that solve the challenges of remote decision-making
Last updated on: January 20, 2022
Does your team take forever and a day to weigh the pros and cons before reaching a decision? Sometimes, most team members tend to take a back seat and hold tight until somebody braver takes a step forward and decides. Substituting these back seats at the conference room with comfy chairs at home offices made the process of lying low even easier. After all, there’s always someone who’ll unmute their mic and reach a decision to interrupt the awkward silence in a conference call.
If these scenes ring a bell, something might be rotten in your remote team’s decision-making process. It may be that your team’s strategy, from making a decision to getting things done, isn’t as straightforward as you predicted it to be. The team reaches a decision, allocates resources, and then goes back to the point of debating on the decision once again. However, even when this frequently happens, it’s not yet time to abandon all hope.
A proper decision-making model can save the day just in time before you schedule your team’s next meeting. This article will help you overcome the most frequent challenges of reaching a decision remotely and provide you with four decision-making models that will remove the awkward silence from the list of your conference call attendees.
A word or two on decision-making
To better understand the process of remote decision-making, let’s first look at what the general decision-making process entails.
According to Karl M. Wiig, a professor, and a management researcher, the decision-making process varies depending on the complexity of our choices. Wiig states that people undergo three stages when deciding: simple decision-making, complex decision-making, and novel problem-solving.
|Familiar situations can be solved by this process, and people are usually unaware of making decisions. |
🔸Example: Choosing a restaurant for lunch is a simple decision because it’s based on your past experience.
|This process usually involves dealing with numerous options and difficult to predict results. |
🔸Example: Buying a car is a complex decision because it depends on multiple factors, budget, individual needs, etc.
|When the situation is new or not sufficiently familiar, it usually requires coming up with new strategies before making a decision. |
🔸Example: You could be an HR specialist who has to choose a logo design, so you go for a problem-solving strategy because this task is out of your expertise.
Most of the time, we deal with everyday situations that we can handle well. The majority of the daily tasks we complete at work fall under this category. However, sometimes our decision-making process involves consulting other people before making a choice. When our decision depends on information beyond our knowledge, we put all our stakes on effective team collaboration.
What about team decision-making?
Making a choice, especially at a workplace, is always correlated with the amount of information we have at hand. When you do repetitive tasks, such as writing an email or documenting a code, you rely on your previous experience and usually don’t require additional information to complete them. However, regardless of your work environment, you most probably don’t work in a vacuum. Collaborating with a variety of people comes hand in hand with a successful workday.
The importance of efficient collaboration within a team becomes especially apparent when the lack of information prevents us from deciding which path to take. Teams, being the pillars of information, can work out the correct equation more quickly, especially in a novel or a complex situation. This especially applies to remote decision-making.
What is remote decision-making?
Reaching a consensus seems like a trouble-free process, especially when a team stands by the decision. However, arriving at the finish line usually comes after a long zig-zag walk. After gathering the relevant data, sometimes come hours of long discussions. Often, the process of deciding isn’t transparent enough, and the team has to go back to square one once again.
When properly organized, remote decision-making, on the other hand, can be a process as clear as day. Making use of asynchronous communication can bring forth both the control over and the overview of the entire road to a decision. From making suggestions to voting, deciding becomes an open, collaborative process rather than a ‘command and execute’ one. Instead of having to pay a visit to a co-worker’s cubicle for every tinpot information, a remote setting helps you stay one jump ahead. With all the data being just a couple of clicks away, in the process of making a choice, all eyes are on choosing.
The challenges of remote decision-making (+ some solutions)
Deciding remotely perhaps seems like walking on air compared with a get-together around the conference table. Nobody is putting work on hold or skipping their lunch break just to take a seat and doze off in a meeting that could take hours. It seems like people are finally the masters of their own time — or at least the masters of their presence at a meeting. There’s always the option of turning your camera off and muting yourself so that you are never in the hot seat. However, this is where the pitfalls of making a decision remotely see the light of day. Let’s pinpoint some of the most challenging scenarios remote teams might undergo when settling on an option to help you guard your team members against them.
Whether your team members are geographically dispersed or their work hours are flexible enough to log in at different times, contacting everybody at the same time may sometimes not be an option. If you tend to rely on real-time communication only, agreeing on a meeting time when a decision is time-sensitive could delay the discussion for days.
The solution: arrange asynchronous meetings
Making the most out of asynchronous communication tools can bring the issue of getting in touch with your team members to a stop. A Forbes Council member, Justin Mitchell, suggests arranging asynchronous meetings to maximize productivity and ward off the time difference struggles. Instead of scheduling a 30-minute video call, share the relevant topics and encourage discussion in your online team chat app. Although it could seem like an announcement in your team chat app might forestall the decision further, there’s a solution to the time-pressing issues too. Setting a reply time expectation when posting gives everybody enough time to spot the announcement and contribute to the decision-making process without adding to the standstill.
Lack of information
Migrating your business to a virtual setting lays the foundation for information transparency. All the essential data should be at everyone’s fingertips, and nobody is supposed to waste time going over scattered pieces of paper. In reality, however, gathering relevant input is a bumpy road.
Perhaps your team’s communication flow brought upon a siloed behavior, and all the critical information is nowhere to be found outside of a particular department. Although a siloed mentality isn’t exclusively reserved for remote work only, it becomes particularly problematic when your team is trying to come to an agreement. Even though the information is a prized asset in decision-making, especially in data-driven decisions, 50% of the surveyed companies in a BI-survey questionnaire claim that they make decisions without relevant information simply because the data is not available. Making decisions based on gut feeling instead of proven facts could come back to haunt you.
The solution: make the information easily available for everyone
Luckily, choosing the right tools for your remote company to store your information and promote collaboration tends to get in the way of concealing information. When every team member is encouraged to share, and everyone has access to the data, remote work maximizes productivity and decision-making instead of the opposite.
💡 If you’re having trouble finding the best strategy to deal with the challenges of the siloed mentality, don’t forget to check our blog post: How to break down team silos and improve collaboration.
Inadequate communication channels
Whenever you put your faith in synchronous communication channels for making a decision, it’s impossible not to notice their drawbacks. Video calls, for example, happen within a pre-scheduled time frame. The time limit serves its purpose when your team members are busy finishing other tasks. However, when you schedule a call to discuss the alternatives before deciding, the time limit could doom your final choice to failure.
Aware that the clock is ticking, team members could potentially overlook all the alternatives and choose the first option that comes to their minds. Apart from that, business communication literature shows that people tend not to give their choice a lot of thought and forget important information when deciding under pressure. When you impose the need to make an urgent decision in an inadequate communication channel, you risk having to revise the decisions your team has made, therefore wasting both time and resources.
The solution: choose a collaborative communication channel
Choose the right communication tools instead of urging your team members to decide in real-time. Opt for a collaborative document where everyone can share their opinion without pressure or start a thread in your team chat app to raise an issue. Sharing all the information beforehand helps your team focus on the whole picture. Being able to think before replying and go back and edit their message allows them to decide based on rational thinking instead of agreeing to a faulty choice only because they found themselves in a hot seat.
Decision-making models suitable for remote work
When making team decisions in a conference room, the process goes as follows —it always starts with pinning a problem down, identifying goals, and getting to the bottom of all the alternatives. If it looks like these steps are not mobile enough to be helpful in a remote setting, you have probably not come across an adequate decision-making strategy for your team yet.
Let’s examine four adapted and upgraded decision-making models that can be a turnaround in your team’s commitment to a decision in a remote setting: Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI), RAPID model, Pugh Matrix, and BRAIN model.
1. Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI)
Selecting a decision-making model focused on the process of carrying out the task ensures transparency from the start. Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI) helps your team achieve just that. The acronym RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed, incorporating the key roles necessary in a successful decision-making process. The RACI model assists you in carefully plotting everyone’s roles and responsibilities even before your team arrives at the point of reaching a final decision. Let’s clarify in detail what this model stands for and how it looks in practice.
|R —responsible||The team members who are responsible for a task are the ones who will complete the necessary work. There can be more than one person who falls under this category.|
|A — accountable||The person accountable for a project is the one who makes the final decision and assigns tasks. Since this team member is held accountable for the project’s outcomes, this role should be set to only one person per project/task.|
|C — consulted||The team members who provide information and whose collaboration is necessary for the successful outcome of a project. They are the ones who share input and expert knowledge, so their number per task/project might vary.|
|I — |
|Although this group doesn’t provide any detailed information or make decisions, they should always remain in the loop and be updated on the progress. The rest of the team can belong to this group.|
As seen in the chart, the RACI model provides clear guidance on the distribution of roles in the decision-making process. Mainly task-driven, this model gives you the upper hand when most of your team members are not very enthusiastic about deciding. Let’s take a closer look at a task-oriented example of this matrix to help you put it into action.
The example above demonstrates each person’s main responsibilities and roles in a project. Working on a common goal, a designer is responsible for the project’s design, whereas a developer is responsible for coding. However, their roles change as the tasks within the project change. Therefore, when the project progresses to coding, a designer will stop being the responsible person, switching to an informed team member instead.
An example of the RACI model in action
Let’s say your team has suggested introducing a new feature to your product. However, not everyone on the team is on the same page, and reaching a final decision based on guesswork could waste time and resources. Therefore, you decide to use the RACI model and help your team reach a rational decision. This is how the RACI model looks like in a situation when a team needs to make a decision remotely:
|Collecting customer feedback||A||I||R||C||I|
|Gathering the paperwork||R||C||A||I||C|
Ensuring that all the roles are documented, and visible to the entire team makes the process as transparent and clear-cut as possible. The final discussion on the decision can take the form of a meeting. However, all the procedures and discussions prior to this real-time conversation can take place in asynchronous environments, such as your team chat app.
This will keep the unnecessary babble away and prevent all the chaos resulting from somebody being absent from a meeting. Every team member’s assignment is just a couple of clicks away, and everybody knows whom to contact when the confusion takes over.
Why is the RACI model useful in remote decision-making?
Apart from being beneficial for the organization of your project’s entire process, from planning to execution, the RACI model promotes a transparent cross-departmental collaboration. By providing a clear picture of all the roles and duties of each department from the beginning, this matrix leaves less room for misunderstandings and helps pinpoint the exact shortcomings in case something goes wrong.
The matrix can be a helpful tool even before your team decides it’s time for project execution. Examining how the RACI model translates into remote environments, we can see how it can assist your team in making decisions.
2. RAPID model
The RAPID model’s acronym, similar to the RACI model, stands for each person’s role during the process of reaching a decision. The team making decisions consists of people who: recommend, agree, perform, provide input and decide.
Although seemingly similar to the RACI matrix, the fact is that the RAPID model is far removed from it. As the previous examples have shown, the RACI model, although detailed, is mainly focused on a specific project and task. When modified, as seen above, the matrix serves your decision-making process purpose. Even though it does lead to fact-based decision-making, only one person is held accountable for making the final choice — and the choosing part is just the tip of the decision-making iceberg.
Although one person is responsible for making a decision, similar to the RACI matrix, the RAPID model is a step-by-step decision-making model that comes after all the facts and input are gathered. Combined with the RACI model, it can break the mold in your organization’s usual choosing patterns. Let’s examine what’s in its name and how you can implement it as soon as possible.
|R — recommend||The team members who make recommendations about a decision belong to this group. They usually provide options and alternatives based on the facts they possess.|
|A — |
|This group is supposed to discuss and reach an agreement based on the R’s group recommendations. Once they find common ground, their recommendation can be proposed as a solution.|
|P — |
|The group of team members whose task is to ensure that the decision is successfully and promptly executed. Despite the order of letters in the abbreviation, this is the final stage of the RAPID model.|
|I — |
|The team members who give helpful information before a decision is made fall under this category. The input they provide could vary from specifying a timeframe of the project execution, costs, etc.|
|D — |
|The final decision is the responsibility of one person only. This team member is supposed to consider all the previous decision-making stages and make a grounded decision based on them.|
An example of the RAPID model in action
Similar to the RACI matrix, the RAPID model can be understood by looking at an example.
Assume that your team goes further away from introducing a new feature to your product. This time, someone suggested developing a brand new product from scratch! Not only does making this decision impact the entire business, but it also requires complex and time-consuming discussions that might not be an option in a remote setting. However, carefully devising a RAPID strategy and timely informing your team of their responsibilities could stand in the way of all the unexpected turns of events. Here’s how a simplified version of the chart you can share with your team members might look like:
|Provide objectives for the new product||D||P||A||I||R||I|
|Devise a budget strategy||A||D||P||A||I||R|
As seen in the example, the process from elaborating on an idea to launching a new product is transparent and straightforward. Each person from the team is given a role in the process. Several team members provide information and recommendations before the team member responsible for reaching a decision makes their choice. Mark’s and Carlos’ task, for example, is to agree on a proposed budget strategy. After they reach an agreement, Ethan devises a definite budget strategy for the new feature of your product. When all the stages are completed, a successful launch ensues.
Choosing how to put this decision-making model into practice is entirely up to you. You can opt for a conference call with the team members to inform them of their newly assigned responsibilities, or just notify them in your preferred channel if you wish to put this process into action as swiftly as possible. In Pumble, for example, you can notify a channel member by typing @ before their name.
Why is the RAPID model useful in remote decision-making?
Opting for the RAPID model as your remote decision-making strategy helps you ensure clear accountability of each team member, despite the distance. It can be of great help when the company is dealing with complex and wide-ranging decisions. Given that it doesn’t require real-time communication in order for a decision to be made, the RAPID model can be put into motion using asynchronous communication tools.
3. Pugh Matrix
Developed by Stuart Pugh, a professor from the University of Glasgow, the Pugh matrix is a selection model that allows your remote team to break away from the confusion when they are in two minds. Focused on the alternatives only, the Pugh matrix can be a great addition to the RAPID model if your coworkers are uncertain about the best path to take.
For example, your team could have proposed to bring about some changes to your company’s website. This situation calls for two options — you can create an entirely new website, or you can try to modify and adapt the already existing one. The people who are supposed to agree and recommend started a heated argument, and there seems to be no solution on the horizon. Let’s see how the Pugh matrix can help.
|Criteria||Baseline||New website||Upgraded website|
|The estimated costs are less than $2000||0|
|Improved user experience||0|
|It doesn’t require rebranding||0|
|Ease of production||0|
The bottom line of the decision-making process is to put all the alternatives together with the baseline. Baseline is the option you currently use, so in this particular case, it would be your company’s existing website at the moment of the discussion. The team chooses the criteria that you can use to compare both alternatives and see a clearer picture of all the benefits all the options bring to your organization.
An example of the Pugh matrix in action
After agreeing on the criteria, the next step is to evaluate each of the alternatives. This is how your team’s chart looks like after they have finished the evaluation:
|Criteria||Baseline||New website||Upgraded website|
|The estimated costs are less than $2000||0||-1||+1|
|Improved user experience||0||+1||0|
|It doesn’t require rebranding||0||-1||+1|
|Ease of production||0||-1||+1|
The process of evaluation went like this. Concerning each criterion, your team members have given either a +1 if this alternative is better than the existing one or a -1 if it creates more trouble than the current website. If it doesn’t bring on any changes, they have decided to assign a 0 to this alternative. The final equation says upgrading the old website would be better than investing resources in a new one, so this is your ultimate call.
Why is the Puch matrix useful in remote decision-making?
As seen in the example above, the Pugh matrix steps into the breach when your team needs a truly objective perspective on a dilemma. It’s most practical if there is a yes or no situation that needs to be resolved quickly. You can create a collaborative spreadsheet with everyone’s names in separate charts so that each team member has an equal opportunity to share their piece of mind. However, since the Pugh matrix is bound with objective situations, it would be better if everyone suggested the criteria only. After the requirements are decided upon, the voting part is simple and usually agreed on.
4. BRAIN model
Although originating from medical professionals and used in making informed decisions regarding their patients, the BRAIN model can be a great tool whenever a complex decision comes your way. The acronym BRAIN stands for all the relevant aspects we should consider before making a decision, such as benefits, risks, alternatives, intuition, and nothing.
This decision-making model is the best way forward whenever there’s a sense of urgency, or your team members are under pressure to single out one preferable option. However, be mindful that this model can sometimes produce further discussion, so it’s in its best light when your team members need to assess the pros and cons of a situation.
It can be in the form of a questionnaire or a collaborative document that everyone involved can edit.
|B — |
|How does this option benefit my team?|
|R — |
|How might this option pose a risk to my team?|
|A — |
|What are the alternatives to this option?|
|I — |
|How do I feel about this option?|
|N — |
|What could happen if we didn’t choose this option?|
An example of the BRAIN model in action
The marketing team has informed you that communicating remotely became highly challenging for everyone within the team. The important announcements keep getting delayed or overlooked, and the lack of communication puts projects on hold. They had in mind another communication tool that could substitute the email you currently rely on. Let’s examine how the team could assess the pros and cons and reach a final decision.
|How does this option benefit my team?||Choosing a team chat app instead of email could enable the team to collaborate more efficiently and enhance productivity.|
|How might this option pose a risk to my team?||Perhaps the non-tech savvy team members would need some time to adjust to the new tool.|
|What are the alternatives to this option?||Potential alternatives could only be phone calls because they enable us to get in touch more quickly than emails. However, this alternative could be distracting and interrupting.|
|How do I feel about this option?||The marketing team feels introducing a team chat app would positively transform the team’s overall workflow.|
|What could happen if we didn’t choose this option?||If we didn’t choose this option, the delays would probably continue and lead to additional resource waste.|
The marketing team has successfully evaluated the benefits and challenges of choosing a team chat app over email. They have concluded that selecting this option would result in long-term workflow benefits and agreed on their choice.
Why is the Brain model useful in remote decision-making?
As the example demonstrates, the BRAIN model is a straightforward method of evaluating alternatives by looking at the whole picture. This decision-making model could also be coupled with the RAPID model whenever there’s a need to assess the risks during the Agreement stage. Providing enough questions to reach a rational decision, the BRAIN model allows your team members to avoid being rash and embrace nothing but logic. Since the series of questions can be in the form of a questionnaire, the BRAIN model allows your team to rationalize their decision without having to schedule a call.
If reaching a decision in a remote team seems like a battlefield, or you frequently hear crickets chirping when you join a video call, pushing back against these issues will not save the day. When a critical decision is at stake, prevention is better than a cure. Estimating your communication tools, preventing information bottlenecks, and selecting the adequate remote decision-making model for your team come first. After everything falls into place, the discussion naturally follows and brings down the curtain to all the choices being left hanging in the air.