Making Good Decisions

When a faculty or board needs to make decision of major significance, how does the group assure that the decision is well considered and supported by everyone who needs to be involved?

Shared decision making can be a challenging area for a Waldorf school. It involves building agreement for decisions and creating clarity around decision making authority and processes.

A good decision is the result of both having the organizational culture and structure that supports timely and thorough processes, and assuring that various groups and individuals, who have the authority to make decisions in their respective areas, understand and follow those processes.

Consensus

There’s a general agreement in most Waldorf schools that both committees and the school as a whole should operate by consensus and that when consensus can’t be reached an alternative path (usually a vote with majority rule) should be taken for the sake of timeliness.

There’s also an underlying idea in most schools that, since everyone cannot be involved in every decision, smaller groups ought to be given the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the whole.  The decision-making authority given to a group is usually outlined in its mandate. (Search the resources section for more information on mandates)

Both of these ideas, consensus and mandates, are important.  But they are not always fully understood or practiced.  There are many reasons for this, including:

  • The regular turnover of volunteers and other leadership;
  • The lack of ongoing training in consensus or mandate creation;
  • Confusion about which process might be best applied in a given situation.

Here are some basic guidelines to help every school improve their decision-making process:

1.     Decide before you decide.

Every group will be faced with having to make small or large decisions to complete its work. The most effective groups always decide how they are going to make decisions before they start their work. A reflection on their decision making should be part of their annual review. This sounds easier than it is, which leads to the second point.

2.     Know your tools.

Each group must have a good grasp of the nature and practice of different decision-making processes. Once they understand the various processes, it’s important to provide training to help groups find and adopt the best processes for their organization. Training in consensus and mandates, therefore, should be a part of every teacher’s or major volunteer’s orientation. Otherwise, schools will end up with groups that don’t know how to function well. As a result, decision-making is often, by default, dominated by a few individuals. This leads to the third point.

3.     Decide who decides.

Know the roles and responsibilities of each group and individual in the school, including which group or individual makes which kinds of decisions. This takes time to develop but can greatly help groups avoid spending a lot of time on decisions that are easily delegated or, on the other hand, handing over major decisions to a few individuals when everyone’s input and buy-in should be achieved. (Note: there is a very helpful tool, called the RACI model, developed to help organizations identify which levels of activity need what level of involvement from which individuals. (See the resources section for a good article on this.)

4.    Tough it through and respect the process.

When a decision requires consensus, then use the process all the way to its conclusion. The process of consensus, when used well, is a remarkable tool for building community and making well considered, and broadly supported decisions. By the same token, when a task is mandated or delegated, it is best to be clear about the group’s decision- making authority in the beginning and support the group by trusting them to do fulfill their task. Decisions can always be reviewed later to learn how a process could be improved. Trust can easily be undermined and social harmony weakened if groups are not allowed to exercise their mandated authority and to be responsible for the decisions they make. (The resources on consensus in our resource center have good insights into how to navigate tough situations.)

The path to a good decision is not easy but we can develop our understanding of the processes and get better as we move forward.

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