Catchball is a business process of floating ideas and comments around in an iterative manner. The name ‘catchball’ comes from the metaphor of tossing an idea back and forth, much like you might with a football.
As the catchball process progresses, each person involved has an opportunity to add his or her ideas.
Catchball is often associated with decision making and goal setting, and frequently involves movement up and down an authority structure.
The catchball process can be formal or informal. In some cases, it might just be a few sessions of discussion. In others, it may be a series of formal meetings. In either case, catchball relies on open communication and engagement of all the parties involved.
When It Is Not Really a Catchball Process
It is not catchball if the senior manager dictates the outcome and doesn’t incorporate input.
There is nothing inherently wrong with managers making decisions without a catchball process. The problem is when a pseudo-catchball situation exists, where subordinates are given the feeling that they will be able to help shape a decision, only to realize later that the decision was already made. There is a difference between leaders soliciting input from their team, and participating in a catchball process where the decisions are mutually developed.