In this paper, I would like to report on my job experience as a business consultant in Japan. In 2001, I worked in a corporate main-system implementation project in a Japanese traditional chemical company. That project was made up by 4 teams (Accounting, Budgeting, Production control, and Procurement) and each team had about 10 or 12 staff, and it totaled around 50 people. (Fig. 1)I was assigned in Production control team and functioned as a progress management staff. In the project, there had a weekly-meeting to discuss challenges and to check progress of each team. Attendants of the meeting were a project-leader, team-leader and sub-team leader from each team.
One day, three team leaders (accounting, budgeting, and production control) reported that all things were going well as usual, but only procurement team-leader reported differently. He said that his team could not complete their tasks within their schedule demanded by the project, because they had trouble with coordination with their business partners and clients.
(In this project, procurement team had to contact with their suppliers and clients about their new transaction flow.) Therefore, he requested that more staff should be allocated to his team, or schedule should be arranged for them. But regarding this issue, most attendants of other three teams (Accounting, Budgeting, Production control) insisted that procurement team should tackle with the trouble by current resources and should get done within current schedule, because they (three team leaders) did not want to be affected by such changes and also did not have any interests in other team's trouble. Therefore, although he explained the difficulty of coordination with partners and clients many times, most attendants continued to oppose his request. Eventually, project leader respected the majority opinion and he concluded that procurement team should work harder towards the objective.
Then, procurement team sometimes caused a delay in the progress of whole-project, and it made project's atmosphere worse. A few months later, when due date of the project came, they could not implement the system and the project failed. Eventually, top management made a decision to replace the project leader for the failure, and new project leader came. The person who came had been ordered directly by top management to pull together the project quickly, and it was his mission. First of all, he briefly checked current situation by hearing each team leader and gathered information about the project. After that, he ordered them to define clear goal for each working levels such as project level, team level, and individual level. Then, he requested all members to understand this concept well. Furthermore, he tried to change the climate of project more fair-minded and more energetic. Two month later, as a result of his effort, main-system was implemented successfully and project was closed.
Through this precious experience, I learned two important things in the decision making process which affected the result. First, leadership can affect dramatically to performances and results of team. Second, group-decision making sometimes falls into wrong direction.
When projects faced its problem (procurement team's trouble), the former leader did not give any comments or suggestions to their members. He just easily bowed political pressure by majority. I illustrated his decision making process in Fig. 2. It shows steps which he took in the project. On the other hand, new leader strongly guided all members to the right direction by setting clear goal, making a rule, and leading them. I think that it is really incumbent on all leaders to pursue group's goals, involve others, and motivate them. Additionally, his decision making process was distinctly better than predecessor's one. I also illustrated his decision making process in Fig.3. It demonstrated that he followed rational-model decision approach in the project. Of course, in business world, we sometimes have to make on-the-spot decisions by intuitive-model or bounded rational model. But, if we have enough time, we should make a decision by rational-model, because it is usually more powerful and more efficient than other two models. Anyway, from this experience, I learned that quality of leader is so important to make a correct decision within team.
Additionally, I think we should not easily accept the opinion of the majority. Of course, I understand that group decision making process is sometimes very useful for us because we can share a lot of knowledge and can discuss issues or ideas with many people towards goals. But, group decision making sometimes ends up as a half-baked conclusion. In my career, I have experienced same situation several times. Also, in Residential Program ("Desert Survival"), as you know, I learned that group decision making sometimes tends towards riskier decisions.
Therefore, I assume that qualified leadership affects correct decision making of team, and group making decision sometimes causes negative effect to team. I think that these research areas related human behavior (i.e. leader versus follower, group versus individual, etc.) is so profound, but essential to managements. To test whether my assumption is a plausible or not, I would like to learn more about this area in years to come.