Skills 360 – Decision-Making Meetings (2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 Podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at leading a group to a decision.

If you tuned in last time, you may remember what I said makes a good decision. It’s one that people buy into, and people see the reasons behind. Well, that’s easier said than done. If you’re leading the meeting, you might wish for a simple and straightforward discussion that ends in one – and only one – logical decision. But dream on. You should expect a few obstacles along the way.

For one thing, sometimes people can get a bit personal. I mean, one person makes a suggestion, and someone else attacks the person, as opposed to the idea. It might be pretty easy to detect, like “Come on Dave, you always come up with the stupidest ideas.” But it might be a bit more indirect, like “Geez Dave, do you have any other great ideas?” In any case, you need to shut this down immediately. Call people out for personal attacks, and keep the discussion focused on ideas, not personality conflict.

This is part of your role as a facilitator. You’re supposed to encourage people to listen, prevent interruption, and generally make sure people feel respected and heard. As soon as people feel attacked personally, they’ll shut up. And you don’t want anyone to shut up, because anyone in the room could be sitting on the million dollar idea. So bring it back, nicely, to a focus on ideas, like this: “Okay everyone, let’s just focus on the issue at hand…” or “All right, but what about the website ideas?”

Another thing you need to shut down is conversation that goes completely off topic. People do this without even realizing it. They hear something, it reminds them of something else, they start talking about it… soon enough the conversation has gone from the topic of increasing sales to the best place to buy muffins. Your job is to steer the conversation back. Don’t be shy about it. Just come out and say “Muffins are great, but they’re way off topic.” Even people who tend to stray appreciate this.

Okay, so what about the people who love to hear themselves talk? I mean, there are some people who will go on and on and on about the same idea. Well, you can’t let them go on forever. Once you realize they’ve made their point, find a slight break in their little speech and jump in with a summary. Try something like: “So you’re saying…” or, if you need to be a bit more aggressive, you could say: “Okay, okay, hang on just a sec. As I understand it, you think…”

Another obstacle in a decision-making meeting is what we call “groupthink.”
Groupthink is when people just follow along with the ideas being discussed, without thinking for themselves. Or, they don’t try to come up with anything new. Instead, people just accept what is being put in front of them.

So how can you deal with groupthink? Well, you can try to encourage some creative thinking from the get-go. Tell everyone what groupthink is, and then tell them to avoid it. Ask for some blue sky thinking or off the wall ideas. One thing you might try is having people write down their ideas individually before sharing them with the group. There’s actually research to show that a bunch of people thinking solo about a problem produces a greater variety of possible solutions than a group of people brainstorming together.

Avoiding groupthink means allowing unusual or new ideas to come out. Often people will self-censor when they think their ideas are not going to be accepted. But that’s not always the best way to the best decision. After having people write down their own ideas, then go around the table and give each person a chance to speak. The more you leave it to the really vocal people, the more susceptible the meeting will be to groupthink.

Besides groupthink, another obstacle you may face is time. I mean, you’ve got a big decision to make, and only two hours to do it. So watch the time carefully. And when you’re down to 25%, remind people. Say something like “okay folks, we’ve got half an hour left, so we really need to start drilling down on the best options.” Don’t be afraid to push them a bit. In most cases, people are more willing to compromise than to drag an issue out longer than necessary.

But if the group really can’t come to a good decision, or if people really can’t agree, or if there’s just more information needed, then consider other options. For one thing, you might table the decision. A delayed decision is often better than a bad decision. Or, you might assign a smaller group to make the decision for the larger group, based on the discussion. Depending on the circumstances, you might consider either of these options.

Regardless, what you’re shooting for is the best possible decision. And as we’ve discussed, there are many possible obstacles to making a good decision within the time you’ve got. But if you play it right, if you manage the people well, and if you encourage good ideas, and new ideas, you should be able to come to a good decision. Believe me, if you do this right, people will thank you for it. Even the ones who seemed to resist at every turn.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

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