To bring teams together well, you've got to meet well, and to help those teams succeed, you've got to make good decisions during those meetings.
Dozens of decision-making frameworks and techniques help leaders tackle this challenge. My company has helped teams navigate these options and select best-fit decision-making practices for years, so naturally, we did the same for ourselves.
When we're facing a complex decision (meaning there's no way to find a "right" option) or really important decision (meaning we're in big trouble if we get it wrong), we schedule a decision-making meeting.
Here's how we prepare.
- We identify three or more viable options to decide between. If we go into a big decision thinking our only choices are "do or do not", "yes or no", we've been suckered into a false dichotomy. Blinders like that are a non-starter when you want a quality decision.
- We answer the seven questions below for each option. Everyone answers these questions on their own, in writing, before the meeting.
- In the meeting, we compare our answers, see what we learn, then decide.
Why seven questions? We've found these research-backed questions generate great insights, lead to great conversations, and help us navigate common biases. They're also really flexible; you can ask these same questions for pretty much every kind of decisions.
Question 1: What are the facts?
We each write down objective logic-feeders like costs, size, who's involved, etc. The generic wording forces everyone to choose the facts they believe most important.
It's shocking how often people fail to realize they're talking about completely different things until they compare their facts. This practice uncovers misunderstandings.
It also highlights individual biases, as the facts each person chooses helps you understand how they perceive the decision.
That's super useful. There are always more facts than any one of us can know, so getting everyone's version of the facts on the table means we quickly benefit by learning from each unique perspective.
Question 2 & 3: Forecasting
- What would it take for this to work?
- How might this fail?
We're naturally optimistic about things we want and tend to rationalize (i.e., invent something) to justify why we should get it.
Forecasting the steps it would take to make something work adds realism. If an option relies on one of those "a miracle occurs" steps, that's good to know in advance.
Forecasting how we might fail highlights obvious risks. It also helps us make a better plan later because we can work to avoid those failures upfront.
This technique--deliberately exploring the possibility of failure--is known as a "pre-mortem" and has proven one of the most effective techniques for improving decision quality in the research on the topic.
Questions Four and Five: Experience
- If this works, what will we be celebrating a year from now?
- If this goes badly, what happens to us?
Research shows that we make decisions using emotion. The facts and forecasting questions bring more logic to the decision.
The experience questions now deliberately tap into the intuitive wisdom locked in our emotional centers by helping us get clearer about our vision. Vision (literally the seeing-things kind) is the strongest sense in the brain, and when you envision celebrating, you can often "see" details of the plan in your mind that make it clearer what steps you'd need to take to get there and whether that party is really worth the effort.
On the other hand, the question about what it would be like to experience failure helps make the consequences of a bad decision personal; if this goes bad, what happens to me? We don't like to think that our plans could end catastrophically, and this question forces us to acknowledge that possibility.
Questions Six and Seven: Ethics
- If this works out, what does it do to our community?
- What happens to our community if this fails?
The final questions root the decision in our values, asking us to consider how our decision impacts others.
Dedicated ethics questions make sure we weigh our community impact in balance with all the other decision-making criteria.
To keep it fast, we write our answers in a table with columns for each option and rows for each question. That forces us to focus on what's most important. It also makes it easy to compare options in the meetings.
My advice: don't wing it. That's foolish. Don't get stuck in analysis-paralysis either. Try our approach to quickly evaluate your options and make better decisions with your team.