9 Potential Barriers to Critical Decision Making

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Kevin McIntyre, , MSc. (LtCol, USAF, ANG, Ret) Firestorm Senior Consultant | Strategies and Programs

Let’s face it, decisions are hard to make in critical situations and when we add the stress of a crisis or when something falls outside the scope of “business as usual” it adds a layer of complexity and uncertainty making decisions a challenge at best.

Let’s examine these potential barriers one by one.

1. Getting stuck on why?

Bad things happen to good companies as well as people.  It’s not whether something is going to happen, but rather when. If preparations have not been established it’s going to cause many people to question why the crisis occurred. In times of crisis it is important to move beyond the “why” question and ask “how.” How are we going to solve this issue we are now faced with? After the crisis has been mitigated we can backtrack and identify the unforeseen circumstances and ensure it does not happen again.

2. Psychological pressures

There are many pressures that can cause us to abdicate our responsibilities in the decision-making process. Lack of confidence in our possible solutions, peer pressure, the oxygen being sucked out of the room when the “leader” is present, not wanting to appear stupid or being bullied by personalities that are “bigger” than ours and more.

3. Excessive optimism and confidence

Pink butterflies and unicorns are not welcome when it’s time to make critical decisions. Some do not “see” a problem and therefore can never be part of the solution. Choose your team wisely.

4. Groupthink

We all crave acceptance, especially when in a group. Working in a crisis with a group of people we like and trust can cause groupthink in the extreme if we are not careful.  Going against the tide can be uncomfortable but without it, the results could be disastrous.

5. Bias

“We have never done it that way before,” can be the end of your business in crisis before you even get started. We all have our points of view and in many cases believe that our solution is the one that is superior to all others. We should all recognize that we did not have the last great idea. Being open to other ideas and solutions is key to ultimate success. Sometimes deferring to the expert on the team in the affected area provides the best way ahead.

6. Paralysis of analysis

This is one that can afflict not only our business lives but also our personal lives.  No one wants to be associated with failure; but not making a decision because of fear is making a decision to do nothing.

7. Avoiding accountability

What if my idea is the one we run with? Is there a scarier scenario when the chips are down? This thought process could lead to disastrous results unless the culture is developed to allow for the free flow of ideas without finger pointing. It is important for leaders to develop an atmosphere, preferably before the crisis, of non-attribution.

8. Tactical focus

In crisis it is important to keep the big picture in view and this can be difficult under pressure. The desire to arrive at a quick solution can short circuit the decision-making process. Don’t lose your strategic focus, a crisis could last for some days, and it is important to keep the 35,000-foot view in mind.

9. Lack of experience

Not everyone who is involved in a crisis has experience. They may have gone their entire career and for that matter, their life without a significant negative event. This could potentially pose issues in decision making. Each individual reacts differently when stressed. Be aware of your team’s experience level.

Preparedness in advance will allow for mitigation of some of these decision-making issues for the team. Other steps can be taken when the proper context, the real problem at its’ root, is clear.  How is my team making this harder than it needs to be? Can strategic direction make decisions easier? How can I enhance team dynamics for the best outcomes of the decision making process.

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” —Jim Rohn

Case Study:

One of the DoD organizations I co-led was operational in a situation that required decontamination. The operation was going to last several days and as such we had backup equipment to employ in the days ahead. A critical piece of equipment went down and could not be fixed on the spot. Several CAT members suggested we suspend operations and transfer the requirement to other assets on the ground.  The solution was presented to the director of operations as a possible course of action but was superseded by placing one of the backup systems into service even though it would not be available for the following day’s requirements. A plan was then put in place to order another system to be delivered in a timely manner allowing future operations. These decisions were made without many facts normally available in a business as usual situation.  Turned out to be the right call and the operation continued smoothly under less than advantageous circumstances.

About Kevin McIntyre, MSc. (LtCol, USAF, ANG, Ret)

Senior Consultant | Strategies and Programs

Firestorm Solutions, LLC

Kevin “Mac” McIntyre is a seasoned strategic planning and crisis and emergency management senior leader.  He has an extensive background in building efficient and effective organizational capabilities consistently exceeding client expectations. Mac has held leadership roles with Leidos, IBM, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Department of Defense, and FEMA. He has held multiple senior leadership positions with varied responsibilities including strategy and policy initiatives around the National Guard’s Homeland Response mission in the Emergency Management Crisis Response arena. His roles have included Air Force Medical Group Director, Director of Corporate Training, Senior IT Consultant / Project Manager, Senior Consultant (Change/Adoption Management, Continuous Process Improvement (CPI), Director of Plans and Operations, and Emergency Management/Disaster Recovery FEMA Region IV. …Learn more

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