3 Best Practices for High Performance Decision Teams
None of Us Are Smarter Than Six of Us
We all know that teams outperform individuals. Teams perform better not just because they put more people to work, but also because of the multiplying effect of bringing a broader set of skills and perspectives to bear on the projects they tackle. On the other hand, the larger the team, the more effort and overhead it takes to keep people organized, involved and productive.
Researchers have been studying the tough team tradeoffs between higher performance and management effort for at least 150 years. A landmark study in the ‘70s found that a “Goldilocks” sized team, one that is not too small and not too big, is 4.6 people…which in the real world rounds up to 5. More recently, researchers at Bain found that after there are 7 people in a decision-making group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. The broader consensus splits the difference showing an optimal team size is about 6 people. At that point, individual and group decision performance is highest, and the overhead cost of running the team is still manageable.
Getting the right team size is only part of the problem. Open-ended discussions can slow down decisions even for right-sized teams. Team members bring their own biases and agendas to the process. Team leaders often struggle to get buy-in for their decisions.
To boost your team’s performance, bring discipline to the process with these three best practices for high performance decision making:
- Fill the right roles. If members don’t know their roles, or if any roles are unfilled, then friction and frustration can grind team decision making to a halt. One of the most effective frameworks for making sure you have the right people on the team is called RAPID. Think of it as a checklist for making sure you have the bases covered. Who is Recommending alternatives? Who has to Agree to with the decision? Who is going to Perform the actions required? Who will provide Input through critical facts and data? Who will make the final Decision? Team members can play multiple roles, but if the roles are left unfilled, decision quality will suffer.
- Get input separately, then share perspectives. Decision making teams can have immense power to widen the perspective of the decision. So before getting the team together, gather individual input from the team members by asking two questions. What are the important goals for the decision? What are the best choices to achieve these goals? Then share these perspectives with the entire team, and ask the group two questions. What is new or different from what they expected? What is missing?
- Explain why, and how they helped. Getting buy-in to act on a decision is as important as making a good decision in the first place. But buy-in can’t happen unless the reasons for the decision are shared. Amazingly, this step is often glossed over or done poorly, usually because the quality of the decision is poor. If you just went with your gut, then everyone will see that you are making up reasons after the fact, which is alienating. If you’ve worked hard to nurture an engaged a team, this step should be easy, and sharing your reasons for making the decision will promote consensus. By engaging a team, you also have the opportunity to sincerely thank each of them for their specific input, creating a feeling of fairness, boosting their buy-in and gaining their support.
This works in the real world. Earlier this year we had a tough decision to make about what to do with a group of partners who didn’t fit the new direction our company was heading. They’d been very helpful, and I felt uncomfortable leaving them behind. My gut reaction was to give them free access to our old product, as a thank you to the partners and to avoid the engineering work required to end the program. But I knew the risks of deciding alone, and I needed buy-in from our business team. So I used Cloverpop to get everyone’s perspective and build the support I needed for the change.
That turned out to be a very good move that saved me from making a very bad decision.
Our CTO thought we should end the program — it wasn’t worth the effort to give free access and maintain it over time. Our partner manager didn’t think the partners would be very upset if we ended the program. Our advisor didn’t see any big risks either way. Our lead engineer thought it was a good idea to make it free — we might learn something — and anyway, he’d built the partner product so it would be easy to end the program any time we wanted.
Reading these perspectives, it became clear what to do. It was time to end the program. And the key insight came from our lead engineer, the one person who thought we should keep it going. Painfully, this decision meant he would have to throw away a couple months of his own hard work on the product. But since he was involved in the decision from the start, he bought in to the result, and we made the change smoothly.
It is tough to lead decision making teams. But bring the right people and process together, and you’ll win every time.
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