Making timely and effective decisions is difficult for many companies - and this problem is not just for the big and bureaucratic. These challenges can lead to frustration from revisiting decisions the team is convinced it has already made, being caught in flat out stalemates, or team members feeling too involved or not involved enough in company decisions.
Staying calm and cool headed is always critical when making tough decisions as a leader, and even test driving the hardest of decisions can ensure that we don't make errors in judgment out of our desire to move fast. There are some great practical tips for elements we should all consider when making decisions.
But it gets harder when it goes beyond each of us as an individual leader to when we are leading a team of leaders to make decisions. After sitting in on a recent leadership team meeting with an entrepreneurial client who was trying to make a key business decision, one of the leaders commented with exasperation, "Our team has had that exact same discussion six times. I feel like I'm starring in the sequel to Groundhog's Day. Why can't we make this decision?
There are two surprisingly easy things you can do to lead your teams to better and faster decisions:
1. Clearly decide how the team will decide
It starts with being very clear about who is involved and who isn't.
I recall one elongated decision making process where the team was certain all of the key decision making stakeholders were involved. But at the eleventh hour three new leaders found their way into the conversation turning it on its head.
Why were they here?
No one really knew, but nothing had been stated that they weren't part of the process, so in the absence of definition, they became part of the process. Morale, speed, and overall effectiveness suffered.
Beyond knowing who is involved, it is also vital to understand everyone's role in the decision.
Are you as the leader making a decision and informing the group? Is the group deciding by majority vote? Is a small sub-set of your team going to be tasked with this decision? Are you looking for consensus?
There are a myriad of different ways to decide. They are all viable.
It's having the conversation about this up front that is the secret sauce. Here's the problem with not doing it.
If I'm on a team and my leader is approaching a decision as being made by herself and a few others, for example, and I am operating with the belief that we are making this decision differently - perhaps by consensus - I may try to insert my vote or opinion when it isn't called for and then get upset when my input isn't used.
Not only does this slows things down but unintentionally causes conflict simply because we never talked about how we were making the decision.
2. Be clear about what a decision making approach means
I was recently working with a team who was trying to improve their decision making effectiveness, and the topic of consensus came up. They liked consensus and wanted to use it more often but had cited poor results.
I asked each of them to write down their definition of consensus. When each leader read to the group what he or she had written, the team had seven different definitions of the term, which generated a good group laugh but also drove reflection over recent team consensus decision attempts.
In one case, a team member felt as though consensus meant that everyone had to agree and another thought that agreement wasn't required but public sponsorship was. They had run into a problem regarding when the decision was actually made and considered final.
Some leaders thought they had reached decision consensus and therefore should move on. They became frustrated when the conversation continued.
Others felt like there was more to talk about and got frustrated when their peers didn't want to engage anymore.
Consensus as a decision making approach wasn't the problem. The fact that they had all been operating with very different definition of the term was.
They simply needed to have a conversation about it upfront.
Taking this time at the front not only saves you from slow and ineffective decisions but also reduces unnecessary team friction, conflict, and lack of engagement that develops over time when team members feel like the decision making process stinks.
And it only takes a few minutes before each decision.