It was a mess.
The World Wide Widgets leadership team had gathered to decide how to use surplus funds.
After the President shared a few of her ideas regarding equipment or new hires, the VP of Operations suggested they take a vote. The Human Resource Director objected and offered another thought on how the funds could be used for training.
“We should think about adding a channel – we’ve got buyers we aren’t reaching,” the Director of Marketing added.
The President said, “I’d like us to agree on -“ but was cut off by the Manager of Finance.
“You’re the boss, just decide.”
“No, we should agree,” Human Resources said, then added, “I don’t like the added channel idea, we need -“
But Finance came to Marketing’s defense, “You didn’t understand what he was saying. The idea is…”
As the room broke into raised voices and side conversations, the head of engineering sighed, opened her laptop and began answering emails…
When the Problem Isn’t the Problem
The majority of meetings take place in order to make a decision.
Whether you’re trying to solve a problem, choose a new course of action, improve performance, or even choose where to have lunch, you’re goal is to make a decision.
If you’re like many of the supervisors and leaders I work with, you struggle to lead productive meetings and get buy-in for the eventual decision because you make one critical mistake:
You aren’t clear about how the decision will be made.
The World Wide Widgets team struggled because they tried to make two important decisions at the same time. These decisions are:
1) How to use the extra funds. (The outcome decision.)
2) How to decide how they would use the funds. (The process decision.)
If your meetings lack clarity, buy-in from participants, and waste huge amounts of time, the first place I recommend you look for answers is in your decision-making process.
Chaos results when the problem being discussed (outcome decision) becomes confused by the problem of how the decision will be made (process decision).
You Only Have 3 + 1 Choices
The good news about decision-making is that there are only four ways you and your team can make decisions.
1) Single person decides
This may be the team leader or someone to whom they delegate decision-making authority.
This person gets all the relevant information and input within the time available and then chooses a course of action.
2) Group vote
This is straightforward “majority rules” decision-making. Take a vote. Whichever option has a majority is the one the team commits to.
3) Group consensus
A consensus decision is one where every member of the group can “live with” the outcome. It may not be their first choice, but everyone sincerely expresses comfort moving forward.
These three methods are the only means of decision-making available where people make the decision. There is a fourth option, however:
“Let’s flip a coin, draw a card, or roll the dice…”
And now you have all four ways to make a decision.
There aren’t any more: either a person decides, a group majority decides, the entire group decides, or fate decides.
The important point isn’t which of these methods you use. None of them are inherently good or bad.
They’re all valuable in different circumstances.
What is vital is that you and your team are very clear about which method you will use to make the decision.
Put It to Work
For instance, the World Wide Widgets President might have started the meeting by saying, “On Friday we need to decide on how these funds are going to be used. We will be making this decision by consensus. I want each of us to be comfortable moving forward so please get your thoughts on the table.”
Or, she might have said, “Today I would like to get your thoughts on the best use of these funds. By Friday, I will decide where we will use them.”
You can even use these methods in combination.
For instance, you might say: “We have 60 minutes to respond to this problem. In 30 minutes I will take a straw poll to see if we have a majority opinion. If we’re not there, we’ll keep going and I’ll take another poll at 50 minutes. If we’re still not there, I’ll get final thoughts from everyone and then I will choose.”
Any of these options might be appropriate – it depends on circumstances, on the team involved, on other priorities, etc.
What’s most important is to be clear about how the decision will be made.
Confusion, hurt feelings, and wasted time are inevitable when you fail to be clear about the process.
You can put this tip into practice right away. At your very next meeting, start by framing the problem and sharing how the decision will be made.
If you’re not leading the meeting, raise your hand and ask how the decision will be made and how you can best add value. The clarity you add to the meeting will increase your influence!
Can you think of a situation where each of the four decision methods (Single person, Group vote, Group consensus, or Fate) is appropriate?
Leave us a comment with your thoughts or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!
Creative Commons Photo Credit: MorBCN