Its a Yes according to Vroom-Yetton

I was a business student at the AGSM when Fred Hilmer, Helen Nugent, and Roger Collins were in their stride. The late Jeremy Davis kept everyone transfixed as he unraveled a case study like a Jedi. And I still remember Phil Yetton‘s lecture on management theories in the first semester of 1990. He recommended Robert Cialdini‘s original masterpiece “Influence” and modestly talked through his own guide to decision making published in 1973.  I tell everyone to read that book, and I’m still marveling at the wisdom of Vroom-Yetton. There’s nothing as practical as a good theory (thank you to you too, Kurt Lewin).

The pat answer to the question of “how do we decide?” is of course, it depends. Phil Yetton’s fifty-year-old decision tree helps you to understand the challenge so you can choose the best approach. You decide how to decide by toggling yes/no through 7 questions:

  1. Is the quality of the decision important?
  2. Is team commitment to the decision important?
  3. Do you have enough information to make the decision on your own?
  4. Is the problem well structured?
  5. If you made the decision yourself, would the team support it?
  6. Does the team share organisational goals?
  7. Is conflict amongst the team over the decision likely?

Tipping like a pinball, the Vroom-Yetton Decision Tree highlights the pathways to a spectrum of leadership styles from autocratic to consultative and collaborative.

It’s not a moral agenda – autocratic leadership is fine when there’s no time and you’re confident in your ability to act unilaterally. It’s a strategic framework that helps you manage the risks of challenges that have made you stop to think.

On October 14, we can change our Constitution to recognise the original inhabitants – now one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia. Their suffering and powerlessness stems from the autocratic decisions made about and for them by Colonial and Australian governments. Governments that assumed that they knew best. Governments that were confident in their authority to act without scrutiny or accountability. Governments that repeatedly abolished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative bodies when it suited them.

There is a wonderful genius that the Referendum goes beyond constitutional symbolism to propose a very practical way to turn around the failures of the last 235 years.

The Voice will give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a permanent role in the decisions that affect them by building a bridge to Canberra. They won’t just be on the agenda – they will have a seat at the table to work towards better socio-economic outcomes.  See how theory backs up a consultative, collaborative approach using those 7 questions:

  1. Yes – the quality of these decisions is important – lives are at stake.
  2. Yes – commitment to the decisions is important – too many governments have just given up at past obstacles.
  3. We clearly don’t have enough information to decide on our own – unilateral interventions compound intergenerational trauma.
  4. The solutions to problems are sometimes beyond our limited reckoning, we need to respect 60,000 years of continuous culture and care for Country.
  5. We must devolve accountability – support for solutions must engage at all levels using the Uluru Dialogues as a precedent.
  6. We don’t expect unanimous support – but we can hope that consensus will emerge from local and regional Voices as it has in the Uluru Dialogues – to share in the goal of closing the gaps.

The Vroom-Yetton Model stops us there. We should collaborate. We should say Yes to the Referendum.

Is the conflict flagged in Question 7 likely? Maybe. But have confidence in the wisdom of the First Nations Peoples who have graciously brought us to this Referendum to be able to seize the new opportunity to be heard. If you still need convincing after listening to Marcia Langton, Megan Davis or Noel Pearson, and you are in Sydney, then don’t miss the STC’s production of Jane Harrison’s play The Visitors. The return season is showing at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House until the night of the Referendum.

It’s a one-act gem that brings First Nations protocols around consensus decision making to life. Seven elders gather on the harbour to decide what to do as the ships of the first fleet approach.  They test their own positions to tease out the ramifications of a welcome. And their final action is a deeply moving climax that proved to be sacrificial. There’s the chance now for us to recast it as transfiguring for them, and maybe for us, redemptive.

Southern Cross Alpha Centauri Image Credit: Akira Fujii
Published as “Here’s how you can make a decision on the Voice” in Pearls & Irritations, 2 October 2023

The Soft Build is a strategy consultancy that helps people use buildings as a scaffold for organisational change.

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