How to make good decisions as a team
By Les Mackeown, published on Inc., 01/16/2014
There's something about putting a bunch of people together -- however competent they may be individually -- that generates redundancy, friction and confusion.
I spend the majority of my time with groups and teams, helping them make high-quality decisions. You'd be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn't) at the degree to which even highly effective individuals can become paralyzed--or at the very least, dramatically slowed down--in their decision-making capabilities once they're placed in a team environment.
Let's face it, most groups and teams are highly ineffective at making good quality decisions consistently, repeatedly, and without stress. There's something about putting a bunch of people together--however competent they may be individually--that generates redundancy, friction and confusion.
There are teams that consistently operate at a high level, however, and although they're hard to find, I've had the pleasure of working with many. In every case, one thing stands out above all, and that's the rhythm of their discussions.
This may seem somewhat arcane: surely it's the brilliance of their ideas, or the courage of their decisions that set high-performing teams apart? Nope. Success in team-based decision-making is built on the mundane (as with so much else in leadership).
Just how mundane? Mundane like this: Data; debate; decide or defer.
That's it. That's the rhythm of successful team-based decision-making. Data; debate; decide or defer. Data; debate; decide or defer. Say it over a few times and it starts to sound like a drumbeat--and that's just what it is, the underlying drumbeat to the decision-making discussions of a high-performing team:
High-performing teams start with data. Not anecdote, not pain points, not speculation, not opinion--data. That's not to say that the alternatives are valueless--anecdote, pain points, speculation and opinion are all valid ways to uncover candidates for discussion--but once something gets on the agenda, the only place to start is with consideration of hard data.
No hard data, no discussion. How much would that principle shorten most of your team meetings...?
Debate is at the heart of high-quality team-based decision-making--but not just any sort of free-for-all debate. High-performing teams first of all only debate the underlying data (as we've already seen), but most importantly, they do so dispassionately, objectively, and with only the good of the enterprise at heart.
Think this sounds a little too altruistic, a trifle unrealistic to expect from your hard-charging, passionate team members? Try using the 20 most powerful words in business as a starting point.
Decide or defer
It's time to fish, or cut bait--you've assembled the data, debated it, and now it's time to make a decision. Sounds easy, but most teams and groups flunk this part of the process. Why? Simply by letting the debate stage rumble on for so long that when the time comes to make a decision, everyone in the room is tired, confused, or both--or worse, the debate goes on for so long that there is no time to make a decision.
Here's a simple tip from high-performing teams: agree in advance on the precise time at which the decision will be made. If you're starting the discussion at 10am, agree in advance to move to a decision at 10:45am (or 1pm, or 5pm--whenever is appropriate for the matter under discussion)--and stick to it. If for some reason you can't make a decision then, it's almost certainly because some key data is missing. In which case, defer the issue until the needed information is available.
Say it with me one more time: Data; debate; decide or defer. If you need to make decisions in a group or team, it's the rhythm of success.