How to get around decision dysfunction
Does your team have decision dysfunction? If so, you’re not alone. In our work with teams over the past 20 years, we’ve found that decision-making is one of the biggest challenges teams face. When the team’s decision-making is impaired, it can feel like a pebble in the team’s shoe — a constant irritant. Or like a layer of molasses that seeps through the internal machinery, making forward motion feel agonizingly slow.
But we’ve also seen that, no matter the decision’s kind or size, most dysfunction falls into familiar patterns — and that’s good news because, once you understand the patterns, it’s easier to come up with a plan to manage them.
Decision dysfunction generally falls into one of six categories. If you recognize your team in any of the descriptions below, it might be time to pause and all have a conversation together. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to getting rid of it — but you need the whole team to be on board. Have the team brainstorm things to change. If you need a place to start, consider these tips:
Discovery problems: The team makes decisions a little too quickly and spontaneously, cutting out due diligence and research. It saves time up front but causes complications down the line.
Possible solution: Ask someone to play the role of research champion. Look for a team member who naturally likes to gather data and approaches decisions fairly methodically.
Deliberation problems: The team endlessly debates decisions, considering every factor from every angle, ad nauseum.
Possible solution: Consider whether there are conflicts between different team members’ approaches to decision-making (e.g., some people like to decide with certainty; others feel comfortable learning as they go). Ask team members to consider what they can do personally to accommodate different styles.
Commitment problems: The team makes a decision, but then one or more people start second-guessing it. You never fully commit as a team.
Possible solution: Get underneath what people’s fears are. Ask the dissenters what they would need to see in order to believe the decision is the right one.
Communication problems: A subset of your team makes the decision but doesn’t document or clearly communicate about it, causing ruffled feathers and crossed signals.
Possible solution: Schedule a team meeting where everyone gathers to talk about what’s happened that week, including the decision. Have a point-person write up meeting notes and email them to everyone.
Execution problems: You make decisions in broad strokes but fail to put a realistic plan in place for what needs to happens next.
Possible solution: Visually map out the plan. Create a detailed chart, describing each phase of the plan, step-by-step. Blow it up and pin it to the wall, or make a copy for everyone to have at their desk.
Review problems: After the decision has been made, you forget to test your thinking over time to make sure that your assumptions are still in tune with reality.
Possible solution: Create a team ritual, such as a weekly check-in where everyone shares details about the progress of the decision’s implementation, including snags that may have come up.
Luckily, good decision-making is a habit any team can build. And, once you get your decision-making form in shape, almost everything else becomes easier. It becomes easier to say no to projects not in line with the team’s purpose, for example, and to say yes to bold moves that produce big outcomes. Not only will the team create excitement by making great decisions, but you’ll have the momentum you need to carry them out.