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Administrative Communications and Culture Working Group


While the McKinsey Report highlighted Dartmouth’s positive and collegial culture, the report also pointed to some of the challenges we face in decision-making. Specifically, they observed a lack of open debate surrounding issues, a lack of clarity around who makes the decisions, and a lack of transparency surrounding the decision making process. In addition, the consensus-driven approach to decision making employed at Dartmouth often provides senior leadership with a single position reached by compromise rather than providing several well-reasoned options to consider. Ultimately the consensus-driven approach leads to delays, changes in decisions as a result of additional analysis, and can cause runarounds.

The principles of good decision-making can generally be applied to all decisions made at Dartmouth, whether made by individuals or groups. These principles are intended to be flexible and should be used in a manner that is commensurate with the complexity and scope of the specific circumstance. For example, if a decision will have far-reaching, cross-divisional implications, it is our recommendation that those charged with making the decision strive for greater inclusivity and broader communication than would be necessary if the decision affects only an individual department or program. It is our hope that Dartmouth will not create unnecessary layers of bureaucracy through which all decisions need to pass, but instead encourage managers, supervisors, and other decision- makers to be mindful of these principles.


  • Clarity of purpose: Decision-makers, both individuals and committees, should understand the question they are being asked to address. Individuals and committees should understand whether they are actually the decision maker or advisory to a decision-maker.
  • Inclusivity: Decisions should be made with particular consideration of who should have input into and/or otherwise be involved in the decision-making process. Individuals or groups who perhaps should be represented at the table include: senior members of the division or department that is undertaking the initiative; individuals with particular expertise in the subject; key customers of the initiative; and implementers of the decision. It is often preferable to include at the table someone who is not directly impacted by the decision but who is an independent thinker with broad understanding of the environment or who is a trusted advisor to the decision maker. Inclusivity can take the form of actual representation on an advisory or decision-making committee or can be achieved via the solicitation of input through a variety of means, including paper or web-based surveys or questionnaires, forums, or open meetings.
  • A range of ideas and solutions: Decision-makers should solicit a range of alternatives and encourage healthy and respectful debate and discussion about alternatives. Advisors to a decision-making group or committee should provide a reasonable number of alternative courses of action, including the pros and cons of each. The need for complete consensus is not necessarily the goal of those committees or groups asked to provide input to a decision-maker.
  • Decisions should reflect and/or relate to values of the institution: Decision makers should specifically be able to point to the relationship and impact a decision has on the mission and priorities of Dartmouth and should apply the core values as a guide in the decision making process.
  • Communicating decisions: Decision-makers should be clear to advisors or advisory committees about the criteria that will be applied to arrive at a decision. Members of a decision-making committee should be clear among each other about the ground rules for communications during a decision making process. Decision-makers should communicate the criteria, process and result of a decision- making process using a communication plan and methods that will reach the appropriate audience on a timely basis.
  • Clarity of minutes and records: Decision-makers should document the decision making process and retain this information in a manner that can be accessed appropriately. Included in these records should be information about alternatives that were considered and how the committee arrived at the ultimate decision.
  • Trust in the process: Those who are part of the decision-making process and those who are impacted by the decision should have respect for the process and those who contributed to it. Clear and concise records of the decision-making process will be particularly helpful to those who presented alternative solutions. If new information becomes available after a decision is made, then decision- makers should evaluate the new information and consider whether it affects the decision.
  • Accountability: Decision-makers should be clear about what they and their advisors are accountable for during the decision making process. Implementers of a decision likewise should understand what they are accountable for. Decision-makers who apply the principles of good decision-making should not be afraid to make mistakes, but should also learn from prior experiences how best to apply these principles.

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Last updated: 01/31/07