Teamwork Skills For Better and Faster Decision Making

Some people have a strong distaste for consensus.

They say it takes too much time. They describe the painful details of the myriad ways in which group members polarize on issues and then threaten to use their veto power when they don’t achieve their individual purposes.

I find these processes distasteful myself. They take up too much time and can definitely sap participants’ energies.

But these are not consensus processes — they are debate processes.

To achieve rapid consensus it’s essential that group members gather around a clear, shared purpose and then mobilize around a sense of urgency to make progress together.

In my experience, the following five practices fuel fast decision-making:

1. Consider more rather than fewer alternatives. And generate them together. Teams that move fast know that generating lots of alternatives actually clarifies decision-making. Criteria for choosing among them then surface in the group and, in the process, myriad contingencies are aired and shared.

Trying to analyze and choose between only two (or even three) alternatives stresses making the “right decision” (choosing between opposite poles), which can easily trigger parochialism and paralysis.

2. Involve more people and points of view in the process. When a large number of participants are heard, unique points of view can emerge, which actually increases the probability of discovering creative and expansive alternatives.

3. Integrate with more and/or other parts of the organization. Teams that move fast invite other departments to participate. Doing so enables them to coordinate in real-time, rather than learning after the fact and then having to play catch up. An added bonus is that other departments may actually bring better solutions.

4. Draw on the wisdom of “gray-hairs.” Teams that move fast check their thinking with mentors, sponsors, or coaches whose experience, intuition, and situational knowledge helps the team make smart choices.

5. Consensus with leader as time-breaker. The secret to leading consensus successfully is to establish collective action as more important to the group than complete and total agreement. To fast teams, getting a result and learning from it together is more important than being right. Fast teams also make sure that everyone is heard, especially minority views.

A smart consensus-focused leader will create “hang-time” in the conversation to allow for this. Then, if a consensus doesn’t emerge in a reasonable time, the leader makes a call for group action on the alternative with the best chance of succeeding.

This Week’s 5-Minute Practice Tip

This week, include more voices in decisions that affect others. And stress the urgency of action, steering away from “right versus wrong” arguments (use “Works for me” instead). Keep asking the group, “What could move us forward together?” but start your practice on less-than-critical decisions.

Everyone has experience with this issue. Tell me yours in the comment space below.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Leadership, Teamwork on 12/22/2011 09:34 am
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