Improving decision making on your team By Russ Sabia November 5, 2006 In a leadership team offsite meeting I conducted recently, a revealing moment of insight occurred for the leader. In one exercise, the group was discussing the manner in which they handled conflict and the implications of their individual conflict styles. Each team member had a turn to discuss their style and the impact it had on their effectiveness and on the team. Other team members then had a chance to comment and give their thoughts on how they perceived that person's style. Surprise When it came time for the team leader to discuss her style, she described it as being one of collaboration and compromise. The team was taken aback by this and, after a moment of nervous silence and exchanged glances, one brave team member tentatively told the leader he viewed her style, instead, as very competitive, and that the leader often argued and forced her point, seemingly without regard to other people's opinions. This surprised the team leader, but as they discussed it further, she began to realize that she did often express her views early in discussions, and because of the forceful way she stated her thoughts, the team frequently perceived her as having made up her mind already, so any debate of the issue, they believed, would just be a waste of time. This resulted in the team members, who wanted to be perceived as supportive of their boss, withholding their opinions and an overall lack of candor. The team leader confided that she actually desired and would enjoy more debate from this team, and had often wondered why she rarely got it. She realized from this discussion that her behavior had stifled open dialog and idea exchange around important issues. The team also began to recognize that this dynamic had affected the overall quality of their decisions as well as their commitment to them. Many good ideas in the group were withheld, which denied the team the opportunity to challenge and debate the merits of those good ideas. And because of the lack of discussion and ideas from team members, their commitment to what was decided was often lower than it should be. With this new insight, the team began creating new and healthier team protocols for their staff meetings that encouraged idea sharing and active debate. Lessons Learned What can team leaders learn from this experience to improve the decision making and open dialog on their own teams? • As leader, remember that the power of your position can easily sway team members' points of view to align with yours. Try withholding your opinion until later in the discussion - don't weigh in until you have asked for all opinions from the team. • Learn to ask for and listen to the expertise that resides within your team. Be willing to acknowledge that you don't have all the answers. • Encourage candor - seek out diverse points of view with a genuine interest in getting to the best solution. • Help the team develop "rules of engagement" or protocols for engaging in conflict so that they can disagree about important issues constructively. • Demand debate - if you are discussing a controversial issue and getting little disagreement or lots of head nodding, challenge the team about it. Ask specific individuals for their opinions or concerns. • Drive the team toward closure on issues being discussed. In those rare instances where they cannot come to agreement, make the final call yourself. Explain your reasons for whatever decision you make. If all views have been aired and debated, most people will fully commit to the decision made, even if their original viewpoint was different. Good decisions come from teams that are willing to engage in passionate, ideological, unfiltered debate about issues that are important to the team. Your behavior and the norms you help create for the team as leader, helps show them the way.
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