The 20-Minute Test That Measures Your Team's Strength
As we've discussed previously, the core of business success lies in a seemingly simple act: making good decisions. Make (and implement) more good decisions than bad, and you win. Make more bad decisions than good, you lose.
Decision-making takes place all the time, and at every level throughout an organization, right down to the front line. But the most important decisions-- at least in terms of strategic impact-- take place at the very top.
So, how do you know if your senior team has got what it takes to consistently make and implement high-quality decisions?
Well, you could lay out a bunch of money to run an exhaustive range of psychometric tests, or engage in lengthy scenario planning exercises, or hire an outside consultant to undertake a detailed 360 assessment of your team-- all valid exercises.
But, before you do, consider this: simply watching your team's interactions for 20 minutes or so, under the right conditions, will give you most of the information you need to form a conclusion as to their decision-making abilities.
I spend most of my time watching executive teams work together, and here's the simple exercise I use to identify their propensity for high-quality decision-making:
1. Ask the group an important, but not-so-obvious, question. Ask the group something that doesn't have an obvious answer, but which is material and important:
"What's the likeliest external threat to next year's growth goals?"
"What will we do if our two biggest competitors merge?"
The key is to ask something that's highly strategic, but which no one member of the team can answer alone-- a question that affects all parts of the business.
2. Observe the group dynamic in coming to an answer. The team will typically respond in one of four ways:
- Everyone will turn to the group leader, and wait for him or her to answer;
- One or two outspoken individuals will opine, usually with little cohesion or overlap in their views;
- Everyone will chime in, more or less randomly, and their contributions will be more or less independent of everyone else's; or
- There will be a rich discussion during which team members will engage with each other in an open, agenda-free manner. There will be some heat and disagreement, but in the end, the group will self-identify a balanced and informed response. During this time, the group leader will contribute as a peer during the content discussion, intervening only to gently shepherd the discussion to an appropriate close.
Try this process and observe the result.***
The closer the resulting dynamic is to the fourth pattern (i.e. a rich, engaged debate), the more likely it is that your team is capable of consistently making and implementing high-quality decisions. The closer the dynamic is to the first option (dumbly awaiting the group leader's view), the more you're in trouble.
***Caution: For this 'finger-in-the-air' test to work, you need to find a plausible reason to have a trusted outsider be in the meeting to ask the big question. For obvious reasons, the process won't work if you, as the group leader, ask the question.
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