We’ve all been there… that moment when you are sitting in a meeting, trying to make a decision with the team about who to hire, which features to include in a product or what to order for lunch on Friday. It’s droning on and no one can seem to agree - on anything.
It is an understatement to say that it is difficult to get a group to reach a consensus about a decision. Personalities, attitudes, viewpoints and departments can clash and debate for hours, delaying productivity and breaking down team morale.
Decision-making is a key skill in the workplace and especially important if you want to be an effective leader. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for every situation you may encounter, but there are ways to save time, keep the peace and improve the competency of your individual and group decisions. Here are 4 Ways to Better and Quicker Team Decisions.
Three Leadership Styles for Situational Decision-Making
Not every decision needs input from the whole team. Approaches vary depending on the type of decision, time constraints, resources available, the desired environment and buy-in value - the amount of acceptance needed from the team.
If it’s really important to make the “right” decision, you’ll probably want to involve more perspectives. If there is limited time, you may have to make a call on your own and prepare for the outcomes. If it affects the team greatly, you’ll want to allow for participation.
Different decisions will require different leadership approaches that can be classified by the following under the Vroom-Yetton-Jago method from the book Leadership and Decision Making:
Autocratic - You make the decision and inform others. You may do it on your own, or collect information from the team informally and do not need to explain why you are gathering the information.
Be Autocratic when you are confident in acting alone, the team will accept your decision, there is little time and/or you have more expertise that others on the subject.
Consultative - You gather information from the team and others and then make a decision. You can do this with or without gathering the group together for a discussion and presentation of different perspectives.
Collaborative - You and your team work together to reach a consensus. Your role is mainly to facilitate coming to a final decision that everyone agrees on.
Be consultative or collaborative when you have enough time for a group decision, acceptance from your team is important, the problem is not clear and/or you need information or perspectives from others.
Seven Steps to Reach a Consensus
So you’ve determined you need a collaborative approach, now what?
Decision-making expert and psychologist Dr. Tim Hartnett published a book called Concensus-Oriented Decision-Making in which he laid out a simplified approach to reaching a group consensus.
The model uses a seven-step process:
- Framing the problem
- Having an open discussion
- Identifying underlying concerns
- Developing proposals*
- Choosing a direction
- Developing a preferred solution
The keys are to make the process inclusive, allowing everyone to have a say, including concerns in various proposals, so all proposals are from the group and no egos are wrapped up in authorship. Also, asking the team to commit to seeking agreement above their own personal opinions is important.
Keeping those ideals in mind and using the model helps each person to feel ownership of the final outcome and keep the group operating as a team, providing better solutions without the fear of being judged.
Remember, a consensus means general agreement not total agreement, so before the meeting, define with management or your team what consensus means. Does the decision require a unanimous vote? Unanimous minus one vote? A simple majority? Or does the boss have the ultimate say?
*Proposals can be submitted before a meeting to help save time and focus on further polishing ideas within collaborative meetings. This process can also allow anonymity for cultures that may not like individual attention and to avoid possible embarrassment for some members.
Role on, to Quicker and Fairer Meetings
To keep things rolling and maintain a sense of fairness and distributed power, assign decision-making roles:
Facilitator(s) - This person, or two people, accept responsibility for keeping everyone on track with the agenda. They suggest, when needed, the process for coming up with the solutions or proposals that may include break out discussions or go-arounds. Co-facilitators can be great for diffusing power and a backup, in case one facilitator gets involved in the debate.
Timekeeper - This individual reminds everyone to stick to the schedule through various methods such as giving frequent time updates, warning of short time and keeping individuals speakers from getting too long winded.
Morale Monitor - This person maintains awareness of the “vibe” or the emotional climate of the meeting and diffuses potential emotional conflict, making sure no power trips are brought in or inappropriate behavior, like sexism or racism. The individual takes on the responsibilities of the empath.
Note taker - This role is straightforward as secretary of the decision-making body. They record the decisions, discussions and proposals brought forth during the session. For documenting action items, the note taker can use Taskworld to make sure tasks are assigned and nothing falls through the cracks.
Read How to Have Meetings that Result in Action for more insight.
The Pitfalls of Groupthink*
Perhaps the challenge on your team is the complete opposite of disagreement. A problem can also exist when the whole team is so concerned with avoiding conflict, that they don’t evaluate the decision properly, and come up with an irrational or dysfunctional solution.
Suppressing dissenting opinions and isolating the group is also not the answer. It can undermine the value of the group’s work, stifle innovation and make people repress how they truly feel about a decision, which can lead to low morale.
Here are some warning signs of groupthink to look out for: rationalization, peer pressure, complacency, framing an argument based on a claim of “higher morality” and censorship.
Analyzing the impacts of a decision, brainstorming and staying scientific in your decision-making approach can help to avoid this other problem-end of the spectrum and keep the environment centered on a healthy and functional debate.
*Groupthink was first coined by WIlliam H. Whyte, Jr. in a 1952 Fortune Magazine article. It was later expounded upon by George Orwell in his famous political novel 1984.
To save time and resources, not every decision needs to be a team one. However, when it’s important that the team accepts the decision, you have a bit more time, you need more than just your expertise and you need to define the problem before coming up with a solution, a collaborative approach can offer more creative and innovative solutions i.e. “Two heads are better than one.”
Making sure everyone feels included, empowered and has ownership of the decision-making process is the best way to keep team morale high. Consensus doesn’t have to mean 100 percent, but it does have to be an agreed on majority, by upper management or the team.
Allow for anonymity in the process and do as much preparation to save time. Set an agenda and assign roles to help the process operate more smoothly and efficiently and avoid agreeing just to agree, as it is counterproductive.
Setting up a process for decision-making can seem slightly laborious but once the strategy is in place, your team can become a well-oiled decision-making machine, with high morale and a healthy environment.