“Most of us are going through life without interrogating whether our decision-making processes are fit for purpose. And that’s something we need to change – especially when the stakes are high and the decisions are of real import.” – Noreena Hertz, English economist.
One of the hobgoblins of teamwork is groupthink. This occurs when a team rubberstamps the decisions of the team leader or a particularly strong personality without debate. Groupthink destroys creativity and innovation, and it often occurs because people have learned that fighting for something isn’t worth the effort. If they get punished for even trying, or no one listens to them anyway, they will stop giving input. This results in a declining, hidebound team that just goes through the motions and falls apart when the guiding force leaves. If the team resides high enough in the organizational hierarchy, it can take organizational productivity down with it when it crumbles.
Decision by consensus, on the other hand, shakes things up and ensures everyone gets a say. However, OVER-collaboration can take too much time. Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean leadership puts off decisions until everyone agrees (although it can), but contributions from everyone receive due consideration. In large groups, this can take a long time; but it doesn’t have to take long in smaller groups. Quick group decision-making may serve your team best, and it’s simple, provided you meet these conditions. ( ←CLICK TO TWEET)
Work from a template. You can base a new decision on similar decisions, or decisions you’ve made before. If you already have a policy in place on how to handle a decision of this particular type, use it; if not, modify a similar policy or decision-making process. Pre-preparation is most important with emergencies; you don’t want to waste time when the building’s on fire or an earthquake strikes. Tie this in with preventative training, and you’ll have an easier time making the decision all the way around.
Gather all the necessary information. You need to do some meditation. Before your team makes the decision, make sure you understand all aspects of the decision, gather all the expert knowledge required, and take the time to digest it. Once you’ve given the choice the amount of thought it deserves, spring into action.
Limit the number of possible choices. Brainstorm with your team to narrow the field. You can set the final list of possibilities during a good, old-fashioned strategy session: an intense meeting where all stakeholders offer solutions and resolve conflicts.
Limit your debate time. When you have your final slate of candidates, discuss them in a short meeting. With most decisions, an hour will suffice, once you’ve gone through the previous steps.
Ensure universal acceptance of the decision. Whether or not you or others argued against the decision, once it’s made, everyone on the team has to be on board, rowing in the same direction. You may not all agree with the decision, but you must all accept the final word. We all walk out of the meeting on the same side of leadership; don’t talk badly about other people or say you think it’s a bad idea.
Implement it immediately. Move forward with the decision right away, ready to handle and face down any challenges as they appear.
Include error-checking and exit strategies. One of the factors that slows decision-making most is fear of making the wrong decision, which may manifest itself as procrastination or perfectionism. This level of care may be justified if the decision is life-changing, irrevocable, or fraught with danger—like a surgeon amputating a leg, or a business sinking millions into an unstable third-world economy—but most decisions don’t have such irreversible consequences. Flexibility and agility have become necessities in the business world. You can change directions once you’ve made most decisions. If you leave your battle plan inflexible, it will shatter if things don’t go perfectly.
You and your team make decisions every day. It doesn’t have to be difficult, but they can’t be rubberstamped every time. Otherwise, things will eventually fall apart. Debate, even lively debate, has an important place even with quick group-decision making, at least as much as the willingness to get out there and execute once you’ve made the decision. Remember: no matter how much you prepare, you’ll sometimes make the wrong decision. If you leave yourself some wriggle room, you’ll be able to change course in midflight to deal with unforeseen factors or sudden changes in your business climate.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.