One of my clients contacted me recently, and said that while everything was going really well, he wanted some advice on how to speed up decision-making, so his team made better and faster decisions.
In my experience, spending more time discussing an issue often doesn’t produce a better or higher quality answer, so I would like to share some ways to help teams make good decisions, more quickly.
The aim should always be to crowd source the best ideas, discuss the pros and cons then take a decision.
Bear in mind that whatever the solution, it should be for the greater good of the business.
Here are four steps to help improve decision-making in your team.
Right-size your leadership team
The first step is to make sure your leadership team is the right size – to “right-size it”.
In his book Advantage, Patrick Lencioni describes how in order to communicate effectively, people need to engage in both “advocacy” and “inquiry”. Advocacy amounts to stating an opinion or idea, and inquiry is the act of asking questions and seeking clarity about someone else’s opinion. He recommends a mix of one part advocacy to two parts inquiry on his teams.
He states that teams of three to eight are about the right size, and that “inquiry” drops off in larger teams as people realize they’re not going to get many opportunities to speak, so they weigh in with their opinion while they have the chance.
He says: “when the team is smaller, two things happen. First, trust can be exponentially stronger. That is simply a matter of physics. Second, team members know that they’ll have plenty of time to make their ideas heard, even if they do more inquiry than advocacy. This leads to significantly better and faster decisions. That’s worth repeating. Better AND faster.”
This is something I’ve found with the teams I work with. With too many people, you get positioning and politicking, rather than genuine discussion for the good of the business.
To ensure you have the right number on your leadership team, filling the right roles, you need to structure your business right.
Read more: Structure First, People Second
In businesses running on the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), we use the Accountability Chart tool to do this.
We believe there are three major functions which make every business work:
Sales and marketing (how you sell and market the product)
(manufacturing and delivering your product or service)
(which also includes administration and IT)
On the Accountability Chart there is a box for each of these three functions.
Above the three major function boxes there is one for an Integrator.
He or she is the person who seamlessly makes the three core functions work together, removing obstacles and solving problems so that the whole company can function and thrive.
The Integrator is responsible for the bottom line, profit and loss and making sure the company is moving forward and eliminating any problems.
About half the time, there is also a second role, the Visionary, positioned in a box above the Integrator.
The Visionary is the spirited entrepreneur who comes up with all the great ideas, is in charge of the big relationships and is the spokesperson for the business. They are responsible for the culture, the passion, the vision.
Sometimes the Visionary is not a strong “completer finisher” and they are typically not good at executing and implementing over a long period of time.
If you have a strong Visionary, as your business grows, you will need to put in place an Integrator to seamlessly integrate all the working parts and execute on the company’s vision.
These five core roles make up your leadership team.
Each of the five roles has five things they must be responsible for delivering.
This allows each role to understand exactly where they fit in the organisation, their key responsibilities, and what they must get done in order to be successful.
Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you still need an accountability chart.
In the beginning you wear all the hats and execute on all the roles. As you grow, it gives you a clear picture of who you need, when, in the organisation.
These roles do not have to be a full-time employee. They can be outsourced to specialists, so your business receives quality and expertise without the full-time positions.
The beauty of the EOS Accountability Chart is that as your business grows, it simply grows with it.
Having the right structure in place, will enable you to find the right people and place them in the right seats.
And having the right people, fulfilling the right roles, rather than an oversized team, will help make discussions smoother and swifter when you come to make decisions.
Read more: The secret of good decision-making
Balance skills, qualities and modus operandi
To have a healthy, functional and cohesive team, able to make the right decisions, quickly, aim to balance people’s communication styles and natural abilities, and use their different strengths.
If you can identify your employees’ instincts, and understand them better, you will be able to help them maximise their productivity – and use their strengths to help you make decisions.
For example, if you have people on your team who are simplifiers, they will generally summarise or recap solutions in simple language.
On the other hand, if you have people who could be described as “fact-finders”, use them to research the different options and weigh their pros and cons.
You can identify these natural abilities using a profiling tool called Kolbe. This identifies people’s natural abilities and helps create productive teams, nurturing their talent and organising them in a way to achieve business growth.
Kolbe analyses people based on four different types of behaviour: Fact Finder, Follow Thru, Quick Start and Implementor.
Each trait is regarded as equally positive and is rated on an inverted scale of 1-10 on what Kolbe terms a Continuum.
Fact Finder: how you gather and share information
Follow Thru: how you arrange and design
Quick Start: how you deal with risk and uncertainty
Implementor: how you handle space and tangibles
One of the most significant benefits of Kolbe is that you can run a team report to show its strengths and any missing methods. You can then actively balance those strengths and fill any gaps.
This helps employees to understand themselves and their colleagues better – and therefore become a much more productive team, working together.
Become solutions oriented
One stumbling block to making fast and effective decisions is that people often spend far too long talking about the problem and not enough discussing solutions to solve it and making a decision.
Consider ROTS – the Return on Time Spent. Are you spending the right amount of time discussing and making a decision based on the questions’ importance?
Ask yourself who owns the issue and who should be solving it. Is it for department heads to solve at a leadership level, or can it be delegated and resolved within a department?
Encourage your teams to be efficient and effective in how they communicate. Help them to be conscious of how much “airtime” they take, and ensure everyone’s perspectives are heard, not just those who are most extrovert or dominant.
Two techniques to help your team do this is called “bottom lining” and becoming “solutions oriented”.
“Bottom lining” means teaching people to get to their point quickly and efficiently, rather than taking 20 minutes to make a point which could be explained in fewer words.
“Solutions oriented” means that once a root cause of a situation has been identified, the team should focus on discussing solutions, rather than reverting back to discussing more of the problem.
There are two EOS tools to help with decision making.
One tool is the Issues List, where any issue – whether positive or negative – is added, so it can be prioritised, discussed and solved at a weekly Level 10 meeting.
Read more: How one client uses their Issues List
The second tool is IDS: Identify the root cause of the problem or issue, Discuss the pros and cons of potential solutions then Solve it, which is making a decision to make it go away. We predict what we can get done within seven days and set a “to do” to act on the decision.
How IDS works in practice
The first step is for the leadership team or department to look at the entire Issues List and together as a team to pick the first, second and third items for them to solve that day.
This process of collectively prioritising acts as a team bonding opportunity. Once you have your top three priorities on the Issues List, the team then uses the IDS process.
Step One … Identify
We want to spend most time on identifying and solving, rather than discussing the issue.
The first step is to ask three questions: 1. who identified the issue, adding it to the Issues List; 2. who owns the issues, i.e. is responsible for it on the accountability chart; and 3. what is the problem or opportunity, stated in one sentence, digging into the root cause, not just the symptom.
For example, if a department isn’t productive or is stuck, we have to ask if it is the processes that aren’t working, the structure of the team, or the leader who is managing it?
The next step is to decide what you want out of the discussion – is it a brainstorm, an update, a decision, a problem to be solved.
Step Two … Discuss
Then we move to discuss. Go round to each of the team members involved in this issue and hear their solutions, not more detail about the issue.
We want to frame an open and honest environment where everyone can share their thoughts, concerns, ideas and solutions to the real issue. Once everything has been said, it is time to move to the solution.
Once everyone starts sharing their solutions of how to solve it and we start repeating ourselves, we call that “politicking”, this is the signal to move to solve.
It is more important for you to take a decision, than get exactly the right decision. This helps teams to avoid procastination.
Step Three … Solve
We then create one to several to-dos, due in seven days, that are needed to either move the issue on, or completely solve it. If the issue is genuinely solved, it comes off the Issues List. However, if it is quite a big issue, which will take several weeks to solve, it is left on the issues list until it is complete.
IDS in action
To give you a better understanding of how to deal with your issues list, let’s take a look at how this works in action.
At a recent L10 meeting, we talked about reprinting our EOS workshop booklets. This is an issue which needs to be addressed in our business, so it was added to the issues list by Susan. Beti owned it as the office manager, and Susan was talking to the entire leadership team for input on design and content.
At the meeting we IDS’d it – identified the root cause of the issue, discussed all the possible solutions and options. This included whether we needed to update the design, and if so, who should do this, whether we needed to add new pages of content, and the best supplier to use for reprinting the booklets.
Infographic: Identify. Discuss. Solve
Susan took a to-do to add to pages to the booklets and redesign one. Beti too a to-do to get quotes, and how many days it would take to print, and Annie offered to proof-read the workbook before it went to print. All these to-dos were due by the following week’s L10.
IDS is a valuable tool which helps your focus on the most important issues to resolve, and actually get things done. Sometimes really big issues may take an hour to discuss, and that’s ok – you’re taking action and that is the most important thing.
Clarity Moments Video: Just Decide
Voltaire said “perfection is the enemy of good” – so don’t look for a 100% perfect solution – this rarely exists, and if you keep striving for it, your discussions could go on forever.
One trick for how to speed up decision-making is to simply decide and act on that solution, as most times, simply making a decision is more important than it being perfect.
Our free e-book Decide, by EOS founder Gino Wickman, sets out the 10 commandments of decision-making:
1. Thou Shalt Not Rule by Consensus
Consensus management doesn’t work, period. Eventually, group consensus decisions will put you out of business.
2. Thou Shalt Not be a Weenie
The solution is often simple. It’s just not always easy. You must have a strong will, firm resolve, and the willingness to make the tough decision.
3. Thou Shalt Be Decisive
In a study that analysed 25,000 people who had experienced failure. Lack of decision, or procrastination, was one of the major causes.
4. Thou Shalt Not Rely on Secondhand Information
You can’t solve an issue involving multiple people without all the parties present. If the issue at hand involves more than the people in the room, schedule a time when everyone can attend.
5. Thou Shalt Fight for the Greater Good
Put your egos, titles, emotions, and past beliefs aside. Focus on the vision for your organization. If you stay focused on the greater good, it will lead you to better and faster decisions.
6. Thou Shalt Not Try to Solve Them All
Take issues one at a time, in order of priority. What counts isn’t quantity but quality. You’re never going to solve them all at one time.
7. Thou Shalt Live With, End It, or Change It
If you can no longer live with the issue, you have two options: change it or end it. If you don’t have the wherewithal to do those, then agree to live with it and stop complaining.
8. Thou Shalt Choose Short-Term Pain and Suffering
Both long-term and short-term pain involve suffering. A great rule of thumb that makes this point is called “thirty-six hours of pain.” Solve your problem now rather than later. Choose short-term suffering.
9. Thou Shalt Enter the Danger
The issue you fear the most is the one you most need to discuss and resolve. When you’re afraid, your brain actually works against you. Being open and honest will enable you to confront and solve your critical issues and get moving forward again.
10. Thou Shalt Take a Shot
Taking a shot means that you should propose a solution. Don’t wait around for someone else to solve it. Don’t be afraid to take a shot. Yours might be the good idea.
Don’t suffer from paralysis analysis.
It’s easy to think we should talk more, weigh up the options and then revisit the process in a few days. The reality is that time wasting, prevaricating and more discussion typically doesn’t lead to a better decision.
Sometimes, this is a way of avoiding the inevitable reality of making decisions that we find too hard.
If you weigh up the time spent discussing the issue against the overall impact the decision will actually have, you will realise how much time and energy has been wasted, which could have been directed elsewhere in the business.
Far better to make a wrong decision and move forward than not to make a decision at all and leave an issue to fester, because once you’ve started moving, you can always change paths.