From Chip and Dan Health:
THE FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS OF A TEAM DECISION-MAKING PROCESS*
*Hat tip to Patrick Lencioni—we’re ripping off the title of his classic book Five Dysfunctions of a Team for this piece.
Dysfunction 1: Mass confusion. (Nobody knows who’s in charge.)
Political wrangling is often triggered by ambiguity: People don’t know who the decision-maker is, or how the decision will be made, or what their individual role is. As a result, people jockey to fill the perceived power vacuum. To clear the air, use a model called RAPID, created by the consultancy Bain & Company. With RAPID, you specify in advance who will play what role—for instance, someone will be specified as the ultimate decision-maker (the ‘D’ in RAPID), others will only provide input (I), others will need to agree (A) for the decision to proceed, and so on. Read an admirably clear summary of RAPID on the Bridgespan site.
Dysfunction 2: Faction fever. (We’ve splintered into groups and we spend all our time advocating for our own ideas.)
Roger Martin, author of several great business books, wrote about a time early in his career when a group was paralyzed by politics and tribalism. No one was really hearing anyone else. People were simply digging further into their own positions. He stopped the conversation and said, let’s stop arguing about who is right. Instead, let’s take each option, one at a time, and ask ourselves: “What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?” He said what happened next was “magic.” People switched from arguing, “Here’s why you’re wrong,” to discussing, “Here’s the evidence we’d need to see for you to be right.” Read the full story hereand, next time you’re in a meeting where everyone is talking past each other, ask Martin’s question and watch as sanity is mercifully restored.
Dysfunction 3: Hail to the Gut. (We pretend to use a ‘process’ but ultimately the boss’s whims determine what we do.)
In Decisive, we rant about the shortcomings of “gut” decisions. The gist of the rant is: Please don’t trust your gut. Guts suffer from overconfidence and selfishness: Guts think they know more than they really do, and they want to be “right” so badly that they ignore warning signs and contrary evidence. Here’s a great alternative: Make gut-free decisions by practicing “leadership by experiment.” That is, stop trying to guess or predict what the right choice is and, instead, set up an experiment that allows you to gather real-world evidence on the choices. (There’s a chapter in Decisive called “Ooch” that is devoted to this concept.) As Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, said, “When the bosses make the decisions, decisions are made by politics, persuasion, and PowerPoint.” (The 3 Ps!) But when you lead by experiment, the best ideas can prove themselves.
Dysfunction 4: Frozen by anxiety. (We never get around to deciding because people are afraid of making the wrong call.)
Try two things. First, instead of letting anxiety paralyze you, invite it into the open by running a “premortem.” This is a simple group thought experiment (nice summary here by the originator Gary Klein) in which you imagine all the ways your decision could end up a disaster. Then you can switch gears and get constructive, brainstorming about ways to prevent or minimize all those negative scenarios. It sounds like a buzzkill, but paradoxically, it’s usually a fun and energy-building exercise.
Second, set a tripwire. That is, pick a specific date in the future when you know you need to reach a decision. (In some cases, a metric might be a better tripwire than a date. For instance, you might delay a decision on a radical product revamp until/unless customer satisfaction falls below a certain threshold.) Agree with your team, in advance, that no decision is perfect, and that you will NOT have all the information in the world by the time you hit your tripwire, but even so, you’re committing to making the best possible decision by that deadline. Human nature being what it is, people will still be tempted to delay or revisit the tripwire, but by making the tripwire public, you will increase the social “costs” of delay.
Dysfunction 5: Death by consensus. (The need to get everybody on board makes us excruciatingly slow to make decisions.)
There are a variety of approaches to deal with the harms of consensus:
a) The RAPID model (from Dysfunction 1) can make it clear, in advance, who needs to agree and who doesn’t. That way, the group doesn’t burn time trying to win over every voice in the office.
b) The tripwire strategy from Dysfunction 4 can cap the amount of time you spend consensus-building. Rather than frame the process as “We will make a choice if/when we reach consensus,” you’re framing it as “When we reach Tripwire X, we’ll select whatever option has the greatest support at that point.”
c) “Leading by experiment” (from Dysfunction 3) could be a nice substitute for consensus-building. Think of it this way: Instead of building consensus for a particular option, you would build consensus for a particular experiment, which would yield results that would be trusted to resolve the matter. That could give you the best of both worlds: The decision would be evidence-based (rather than popularity-based), but the process would still respect the culture of consensus.
d) Finally, here’s a contrarian perspective for you: What if you don’t have a problem at all? What if slow is actually good? Decision-making expert Paul Nutt argues that while consensus decision-making can be slow, it speeds up execution, since you’ve already won over the potential foot-draggers. Versus if you made a lightning-fast autocratic decision, you’d likely then face waves of resistance that would slow down your work. Here’s a longer discussion from Decisive about Nutt’s insight.