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.

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14 Responses to Teamwork Skills For Better and Faster Decision Making

  1. Devan says:

    “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.”

    I couldn’t say it better myself! When you add purpose to anything you’re doing (especially important when working on something with multiple people on a project) the outcome is always so much better.

  2. hi Christopher,

    I could not agree more.
    Looks like you know a few of these techniques.
    (I only know Decider from the core protocols)
    will you list somewhere the ones you know?


  3. Christopher says:

    Devan, thanks for calling attention to the importance of purpose and shared purpose.

    Yves, I’m missing the referent for “these techniques.” Can you elaborate please?

    • Great post – this is exactly what seems to be plaguing the Occupy Wall Street consensus style conversations as well as decision making in work teams. Thanks for identifying the difference between polarizing debate that focuses on right/wrong and building consensus from multiple alternative choices generated by the team that has a shared purpose.

      The Core Protocols “Decider” comes out of the work of Jim and Michele McCarthy and their team work laboratory – Decider Protocol.

      • Christopher says:

        Thanks Harold – good point re OWS movement. And thanks too for providing the link to the complementary work of Jim and Michele McCarthy. I assume it was in response to my question to Yves. Yves knows a great deal about McCarthy’s work — and, I assume does not need the link — so I remain unclear about Yves question to me re “these techniques.”

        • With these techniques I was asking for techniques that could help in making consensus decisions.

          You have practises that help to come to better decisions and when you make decisions they are better. (When I look at them I can see that.)
          In my experience it also helps when you have a good mechanism for taking decisions. Decider is the one I know, and that works really well for me. I would like to learn about more ways to decide. F ex Decider works best in groups up to 7.
          As I work with larger groups I would love to learn techniques that are better for larger groups.

  4. Bernie says:

    I find a lot of the problems with teamwork disappear when I have every member of the team plugged into our online goal network. With it, every team member is accountable to all of the others and each has specific access regarding planning and management contribution. Everyone has their role and nobody takes a back seat.

    • Christopher says:

      Hi Bernie, thanks for pointing us to LifeGunk. Are you a stakeholder in the website other than a user? I’m interested in transparency so I and my readers can judge promotional statements for ourselves.

  5. Alan says:

    Great post Christopher. The natural tendency in organizations seems to be to limit the number of alternatives in an effort to not overwhelm decision makers with too many choices. Consensus becomes especially difficult when the process of arriving at those limited alternatives is not transparent to those who are held accountable or impacted by the consequences their decisions. This kind of behavior can expose the organization to lurking “black swans”.

    The challenge I find is creating efficient prioritizing processes which can help whittle those many alternatives down to a manageable few within a matter of minutes as opposed to hours, days, weeks, or months. Something as simple as dot voting for example. While many organizations see getting as many stakeholders involved (and ideas) as possible, as an obstacle, the organizations that know how to do a good job of managing the complexity of many alternatives, will know how to reap the benefits of the wisdom of crowds.

    • Christopher says:

      Oh, what a fine point you make Alan about the invisible cost of management complexity and how we try to reduce the cost by making things worse!! You remind me that the simplest solution is usually the best — in development, operations, and leadership!

    • There is also something like The paradox of choice
      The more choices we have the harder it is to make a choice….

      I do believe Jerry Weinberg when he says when you have only 2 options you have not thoughed hard enough.
      Maybe the trick is to have enough options untill one option jumps out…


      • Yves, good point and thanks for the book recommendation. When I’ve had to help people prioritize and choose from a multitude of options, I often find that the exhaustion comes from the “round table discussion”. People are saying too much and not doing enough. This is why collaborative play exercises such as (but not limited too) dot voting or “buy a feature” from the Innovation Games series can be so powerful. . Getting participants to fire both sides of their brain helps them make decisions better.

  6. christopher says:

    Thanks Alan for recommending collaborative play exercises, dot voting, and Innovation Games.

    Yves, you ask me to list techniques — that’s already been done by plenty of expert facilitators. I operate from principle first — as I assume you do, and then choose techniques that fit the purpose, principles, and constraints.

    I decided to create a new blog post with an example.

  7. Pingback: Facilitating Fast Teambuilding and Consensus | Christopher Avery's Leadership Gift Blog

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