What to do When Your Team Can’t Make a Decision

Dictator-by-default syndrome is where a team can’t reach a decision and the business leader has to make a choice that usually few in the group like. This has been framed as a leadership failing, a teamwork failing or both. Companies try to combat it with teambuilding, assertiveness training and other methods that miss the problem. It’s not the people, it’s the process.

“Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to reach the heights of your capabilities or make the money that you want without becoming very good at it.” -- Bria

Asking the Impossible

It is nearly impossible for a group of 3 or more people to reach a consensus on an issue with 3 or more issues through traditional methods (voting, debate, etc.)

Acknowledging the Problem

To circumvent the dictator-by-default syndrome, CEOs and their teams must first understand the conditions that give rise to it.

The majority of executive teams function like a legislature. Each member represents a certain section of the corporate population. It is difficult for them to separate out functions and work on the problem at hand without their primary job influencing it.

The voting paradox also plays into the problem. With multiple choices and multiple people, you can end up with circular decisions and no real consensus. Even framed as a binary choice, implied choices pop up. For example, buy or not to buy has the implied third option of buying something else.

The use of the business case, which forces decisions into a yes-or-no frame-work, is a tacit admission that groups are not good at discussing and prioritizing multiple options

Managing the Impossible

Once CEOs and their teams understand why they have trouble making decisions, they can adopt some straightforward tactics to minimize potential dysfunction.

Articulate clearly what outcome you are seeking. Executives need clearly stated goal. There should be no assumptions and no guesswork. IF everyone doesn’t understand the problem you are set up for the dictator-by-default scenario. Don’t assume, ask.

Provide a range of options for achieving outcomes. Once the problem is clearly stated, break up the simplistic options. You shouldn’t have 3 or 4 choices, it should be a range. Inviting participants to think of alternatives and other options. As long as the problem is stated correctly, you can have good results.

Test fences and walls. When teams are invited to think about options, they almost immediately focus on what they can’t do – especially at the divisional level, where they may feel hemmed in by corporate policies, real or imagined

Often the entire team not only assumes that a constraint is real but also shies away when the discussion comes anywhere near it. When team members cite a presumed boundary, my colleagues and I encourage them to ask whether it’s a wall, which can’t be moved, or a fence, which can

Surface preferences early. Get a feel for where the team is initially. Non-binding votes are a great way to get a feel for where the team is at decision wise. Narrow down the decision-making field by learning what people are thinking. If no one is even considering an option, take it off the table as you work through the other options.

By the third and final round of the exercise, this weighted voting had helped them narrow their discussion to a handful of businesses and channels, and genuine alignment began to develop among team members.

State each option’s pros and cons.

Make sure all sides of an argument are being discussed. Use a devil’s advocate to fully explore the how and why. The devil’s advocate can bring to light problems you need to discuss further or reasons to abandon a line of thought altogether. If the idea stands up to the devil’s advocate then it will better stand up to scrutiny higher in the corporation.

Devise new options that preserve the best features of existing ones. Despite a team’s best efforts, executives can still find themselves at an impasse. Teams should continue to reframe their options in ways that preserve their original intent, be it a higher return on net assets or greater growth.

Two Essential Ground Rules

If teams are to avoid the dictator-by-default scenario they must adhere to these two rules.

Deliberate confidentially. A secure climate for the conversation is essential to allow team members to float trial balloons and cut deals.

Deliberate over an appropriate time frame. All too often the agendas for strategy off-sites contain items like “China market strategy,” with 45 minutes allotted for the decision.

Leadership and communication exercises have their merits. A team can’t make effective decisions if its members don’t trust one another or if they fail to listen to one another. The problem I see most often, however, is one that simply cannot be fixed with the psychological tools so often touted in management literature. If executives employ the tactics described here, which are designed to fi x the decision-making process, they will have far greater success in achieving real alignment.”

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What is a Team?

Team is a word that gets used too often and doesn’t really apply the term in a way that lets us see the value of a true team. A team isn’t just a group that works together. Councils, meeting groups, task forces all get the name team applied but aren’t necessarily teams. “Groups do not become teams simply because that is what someone calls them.”

 “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goats, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

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 “Teams and good performance are inseparable: You cannot have one without the other.” In every company, there are chances to use teams as a powerful tool to create change, ideas or higher performance. Management just needs to learn how to use teams to accomplish goals that lend themselves to team performance.

“Teamwork represents a set of values that encourage listening and responding constructively to views expressed by others, giving others the benefit of the doubt, providing support, and recognizing the interests and achievements of others.”

The first step to developing a team approach is to see teams as performance units instead of just a set of values. Teams need goals and metrics to perform well. These usually come from management and are based on company values or needs. The team needs a purpose they can all get behind. Change the broad metrics of the company goals into specific and measurable goals the team can focus on.

Everyone on a team must be doing about the same amount of work. Even the team leader needs to be working towards the goal. Unless they all have measurable input into the whole, you don’t have an effective team. Each member must be accountable for their input for the group to really be a team.

There is no need to work specifically on building trust if the team framework is in place. “When people work together toward a common objective, trust and commitment follow.”

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There are three basic types of teams, each with its specific challenges. Teams that recommend things, Teams that make or do things and Teams that run things.

Teams that recommend things

These teams need to get off to a quick and constructive start. This can be accomplished by making sure the goals are clear, they have a solid charter and the help and information the team is going to need is in place. The second thing required is to prep for the handoff. The team is not usually the people putting into action the recommendation. Make sure the implementers are involved in some way in the process or the recommendation will probably not happen. Bring these people into meetings with the team early and through the final stages so everyone is on the same page and the recommendation has practical input.

Teams that make or do things

Management needs to decide what the “critical delivery point” is and have that be the focus of the team. There needs to be a relentless focus on performance for these teams or there could be confusion and negative impressions on the team process. If teams are not held accountable it becomes obvious that teamwork is not valued and the team will come apart.

Teams that run things

The biggest issue facing these teams is if they should exist at all. “Although the team option promises greater performance, it also brings more risk, and managers must be brutally honest in assessing the trade-offs.” When teams are used to run things, top management should be sure they have successfully identified the purpose and goal of the team. “Too often, such teams confuse the broad mission of the total organization with the specific purpose of their small group at the top.”

Conclusion

Teams are the most powerful and effective tool management has to tackle the problems of their business. Using them effectively and efficiently is the key to succeeding in the business world.

 

Teamwork – Staying Coordinated

Teamwork is important but with our ever-expanding world teams can be spread over thousands of miles. More likely they are spread over a couple hundred but the effect is the same, a lack of face to face meetings. Having the right tools will help a team collaborate even with distance between them. Nothing replaces a little face time but with these tools, you can come close.

Team - 6 tools to help your teams collaborate

Teamwork – The Essentials

You can’t just throw some people in a room, label them a team and expect results. Teams are built over time and need experience working together. When a team is first formed it will work slower and less efficiently than if you just assigned individual tasks to get the same work done. The advantage of a team comes as they gain the experience of being a team. Eventually, they are more efficient and will generate ideas that no single person could on their own. Is it worth it? Not always. You need to weigh the pros and cons of teamwork to decide. If it’s a small business and there isn’t much choice then you need to get the team to gel as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption that happens as a team comes together. Here are the essential ingredients in getting a team to work together.

Team - 6 Essentials for a productive team

Teamwork – It matters a lot!

Most small businesses have to coordinate and use teamwork, either internally or externally. With a small staff, there are more than enough hats to go around so working as a team ensures all of the company functions are being accomplished with little overlap. Even a single person company has to coordinate with vendors and other service providers to make their company run efficiently. This week we will be talking about teamwork and how to make teams work for you rather than the other way around.

Team - Why teamwork matters

The 6 Essentials for a Productive Team

Building a real team is hard work. Most organizations stop at building workgroups and never go further. That is unfortunate because teams are 6 times more productive than workgroups. Here are some tips for building your team.

6 Essentials for a productive team