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How teams work
How teams work

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5 Decision making and trust

A theme within this course is the development of skills and techniques that are useful to team members as individuals, as team leaders and as team managers. Many of these skills are useful in other contexts, and you may have studied them as part of management or other professional development courses. In this section we consider two aspects of working in successful teams – decision making and trust – and how these can be more complicated in a virtual environment. By way of motivation, in Coar’s (2003) article ‘The sun never sets on distributed development’, he notes that one of the consequences of relying on email or other asynchronous communication media is the difficulty of coming to conclusions or reaching a consensus.

Activity 3

Revisit a recent decision you, or a team you are working in, has made. Look back on it as though you were once again in the position of having to make the decision. Write down some brief answers to the following questions.

  • What techniques (if any) did you use in determining what the problem was? Do you think they were effective?
  • What information did you have at the time?
  • What information do you now think you should have had before making the decision?
  • What alternatives did you think you had at the time?
  • Are there any additional alternatives you can think of now that you didn’t consider but wish you had?
  • How did you evaluate these alternatives then, and how would you evaluate them if you had another chance?
  • How did you know when a decision had been reached?
  • If the decision involved electronic communication, either to gather information, to make the decision or to communicate it, were any additional steps required to ensure the process was completed?


While the answers to these questions will depend on the example that you chose, it is common to look back and recognise where there was insufficient or incomplete information at the time a decision was made. If this was not the case perhaps explicit steps were taken to ensure appropriate information was available.

Electronic communication can add an additional level of complexity to decision making. To ensure that all steps are complete in a virtual environment it is necessary to:

  • identify what decision it is that needs to be made and, if this requires examination of a problem, consult with all stakeholders to do this
  • ask for, and set deadlines for receiving, information from all relevant parties
  • ask for a ‘nil return’ if there is no information to send and chase if no response is received
  • evaluate appropriate techniques for considering alternatives and evaluating them; ensure that all relevant people are party to this
  • ensure there are explicit methods for making the decision, for recording it and communicating it to relevant parties.