Decide as a Team Using Square’s SPADE Model

Your team should use a decision making framework that feels right for you, but the most important thing is that you codify how decisions get made and what roles people play in important decisions.

The more important a decision, the more people will want to have a say—even if the decision isn’t really theirs to make. Square’s CEO Gokul Rajaram recently shared their process, SPADE, which clarifies responsibility while keeping people informed and involved.

Recognize Whether a Decision Is Difficult

Before the team even starts making a decision, they map its urgency and importance to determine whether or not it’s truly “difficult.” At Square, they refer to this scale as “The Kombucha Scale,” but it can be adapted to any team:

Decision Making Kombucha Square Decision Making Kombucha Square

Making Decisions with SPADE

Once the team agrees that they are dealing with an “important” decision, they use the SPADE framework to reach an agreement:

  1. Setting. Provide context for the decision by identifying the what, where, and why.
    • What: Define the exact decision being made. For instance, clarify whether you are deciding whether to launch one product in one country, one product in multiple countries, or multiple products in multiple countries.
    • When: Explain the deadline for the decision, and spell out how the deadline will affect the rest of project.
    • Why: Articulate the values behind the decision; for example, are you attempting to maximize market share or increase revenue? (Pro Tip: review our article on “Even Over” statements to help define these values.)
  2. People. Assign the three roles needed to make a decision: Decision Maker, Approver, and Consultant(s).
    • Decision Makers are responsible for making the call. As the person making or “owning” the decision, they are accountable for its execution and success.
    • Approvers hold veto power. They provide a balance to the Decision Maker, and, when necessary, question the quality of the decision (not the decision itself).
    • Consultants provide input. They provide input and feedback to the Decision Maker, and are recognized by name for contributing. The Decision Maker ultimately does not have to agree with the Consultants, but allows people to feel heard.
  3. Alternatives. Once the people have gathered and the setting is explained, the Decision Maker should develop a set of alternative solutions which are feasible, diverse, and comprehensive. Complex decisions may require a brainstorming session in which small groups of Consultants come up with ideas and list their pros and cons.
  4. Decide. All alternatives should now be presented to the group. To ensure everyone feels comfortable voicing their honest opinion, voting on their preferred solution should be done privately—through email or Slack, for instance. (Over time, your team may build up enough trust that they can vote openly, but expect controversy in the beginning.) The Decision Maker then reviews the votes, chooses one of the alternatives, and writes it down in detail.
  5. Explain. Finally, The Decision Maker explains the reasoning behind the decision, as well as the expected results.
    • The Approver reviews the process. If all of the preceding steps have been adequately followed, a veto is unlikely.
    • Hold a “Commitment Meeting.” The Decision Maker meets with the Consultants to explain the decision, and most importantly, asks each Consultant to voice out their verbal support for the decision, one at a time. As Rajaram notes, “Pledging support aloud binds you to the greater good.”
    • Spread the word. Summarize the decision making process in a one page document and send it to the rest of the team or company so that everyone is aware of how the decision was made, and what the results are.


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Decide as a Team Using Square’s SPADE Model
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