Scale Up Skeletons #9 – Decision Making

In this latest blog on skeletons that have disrupted organisational growth, I cover something that I have seen to different extents in different businesses – and always with negative impacts on efficiency and staff engagement…

The story:

I’ve worked for many organisations during my career and have seen a range of different organisation structures from hierarchical to near-flat and some attempts at matrix management.  One factor is common… projects where there are clear and agreed responsibilities for decision making tend to run more smoothly.  One manager I worked for used to joke during brainstorming sessions… “this is not a democracy!” He wanted everyone to give their input and ideas, but was very clear that the final decision was his and he would own the consequences.

In contrast, I’ve worked for other organisations where decision making responsibility was less clear.  Discussions were open and everyone was encouraged to contribute, but decisions were never really finalised – often because someone outside the room needed to review.  In the worst cases, nobody seemed to know who had the final say resulting in projects ending up in limbo, unable to progress due to a constant stream of additional people being asked to review.

The impact:

Obscure decision-making responsibilities have a disastrous effect on the efficiency of an organisation.  I’ve seen topics where everyone has an opinion (colours to paint the walls, office desk allocation, the choice of biscuits to have in the kitchen…) consume huge amounts of time; time that could have been spent listening to customers or improving the core product. 

Conversely, detailed engineering decisions are sometimes made by a single expert when those decisions could have benefited from some additional challenge or review from another viewpoint.  Mistakes made at the design and engineering stage of a project will have a more lasting impact and are more difficult to correct than an unpopular choice of biscuits.


Every person in an organisation is there because of the expertise that they bring.  Allow them to use this expertise appropriately in their decision making.  Ultimately, decision making comes down to trust and risk.  Do we trust the office manager to choose the right biscuits (and perhaps some fruit too!) – if so, let them get on with the job.  Do we trust the junior engineer to design the most cost-effective component for a key customer?  Hopefully, yes, if they have reviewed the design with the purchasing manager as well as their peers and the engineering manager before it is finalised.

The most important point for a manager is to be clear on who is responsible for what.  Every employee needs to understand their personal decision-making responsibility and also needs to understand the responsibilities of others.  This should be communicated regularly in a growing organisation, since responsibilities will be shifting over time.  I’ve found tools such as a RACI matrix useful in situations where this becomes contentious or confused, which is inevitable in a fast-changing environment.

Telegraph Materials offers practical support to fast-growth businesses that are bringing new materials-science based technologies and processes to international B2B markets.  For more information, see, where you can also find the previous editions of this blog series.

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