©2007 Steven M Smith
Do some members of your team make agreements during meetings but fail to support them afterwards?If this behavior is happening, I suspect your team is using an obscure process to make decisions.
Identifying Obscure Process
An obscure decision making process is easy to identify. Ask each member to create a map of the process used to make team decisions. If the individual maps aren’t similar, obscure is an accurate description of the process.
Probe the maps of an obscure process further and you will find false assumptions. Members assume things about the behavior of other members that isn’t true; for instance, some members assume that their teammates will support the decision made by a team and how it was made with outsiders and yet some other members assume that their support is only necessary when they personally agree with the decision.
I believe an obscure decision making process disables teamwork. People aren’t connected by shared principles. They don’t cooperate. They work like a group of individuals. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I have worked with a simple, clear process for making team decisions for over a decade. I have found it highly effective. It’s designed for teams who make their decisions by consensus. If you are the leader of a team, you may object to the idea of a consensus decision. The idea may trigger the word “groupthink” to pop into your head. But as I will discuss later in this post, a leader has more control over a consensus decision than they might initially think.
Making Team Decisions
The aforementioned simple process is called Roman Evaluation. Figure 1 is a map of the process. Using the process creates visible feedback about the state of each member’s agreement on a proposed team decision. That feedback drives needed discussion and eliminates unneeded discussion.
Figure 1. A Map of the Roman Evaluation Process
Follow the following four steps to help a team reach a decision:
A proposal that defines a course of action desired by a member of the team drives the process. Without a concrete proposal, there isn’t any decision to be made.
The first four words of any proposal are “I propose that we…” This wording explicitly announces the proposer’s desire; for example, “I propose that we reduce the duration of this meeting to 60 minutes.”
Note, the word “we” is used to clearly identify that it is a team decision.
Post a written copy of the proposal in the room so that every member is able to read it own their own during the entire decision making process. The proposal may be amended so leave room for changes.
I would write the proposal mentioned earlier as, “Steve proposes that we reduce the duration of this meeting to 60 minutes.” Communicate it to the group using whatever medium you prefer, such as a flip chart, overhead projector or computer projector.
Let the proposer speak first so he or she can provide context. Start facilitating a group discussion with an explicit duration. The purpose of the discussion is to understand the proposal and its impact. Using the example, I might ask the proposer: “What’s the problem you are trying to solve by reducing the duration of the meeting?” I might ask the team, “What do you think?”
My experience is that groups often exceed the time allocated for discussions so constantly monitor the time and periodically share how much time remains. Whenever either the discussion naturally ends or the time limit expires, close the discussion and vote.
A group recognizes their agreement faster with clear signals. Ask each person to signal their decision with one of their thumbs:
- Up means “I agree.”
- Sideways means “I will accept the majority’s decision and support it.”
- Down means either “I disagree.” or “I have something to say.”
I suggest that you emphasize that a thumb up or sideways means the member will support the proposal. Spell out that support means they will say “We decided to…” when asked about a decision by an outsider (see my post entitled Word Choices — We — Part 2). And they will defend the logic behind why the decision was made. This understanding makes voting a serious responsibility rather than a ho-hum exercise.
The vote gives the team clear feedback about the state of their agreement on the proposal. It enables different choices to be made than are possible without feedback.
Record the vote and verify that you have the same number of votes as members. A consensus is any mixture of thumbs pointing up or sideways. Any thumb pointing down signifies dissension.
As you tally the vote, write down the names of people with their thumb down. Ask each dissenter, name by name, what he or she would like to say about their vote. Don’t let anyone interrupt them. When each dissenter finishes, ask them whether their thumb is still down. They may surprise you. My experience is that many people want to say something and once they do, they move their thumb up or sideways.
If there is still dissent, ask the team whether someone wants to amend the proposal. If someone offers an amendment, discuss, vote, and process. Otherwise, reject the proposal.
As you may have guessed, I believe in consensus decision making. Some leaders have told me they don’t like it though. They believe it leads to “groupthink.” I understand the thought, but that doesn’t happen. If the leader makes it clear that in the absence of a consensus they will decide on the course of action, groupthink is impossible.
The leader is a member of the team. They vote on a proposal. And, like all the other members, they are free to vote so the team makes the appropriate decision. If they put their thumb down and an acceptable amendment can’t be found, then they are free to make the decision they think is best.
I suggest that leaders don’t make a habit of using this power. But, in my experience, some situations demand decisions in a faster time frame than a team may be able to process them.
Roman Evaluation has a powerful effect on decision making. It connects the members of the team. It creates shared principles. It increases cooperation. It helps build a solid foundation for teamwork.
When reinforced, the act of voting makes it clear that unless a member vetos a proposal, as a member of the team, they are expected to support the proposal. And that’s the kind of thinking that binds a team together.
If your team’s decision making process needs improvement, I can help. Contact me.