Leadership teams are the people who make ultimate decisions within an organization. They are the ones who choose goals, determine the initial courses of action, set expectations, provide insight and direction, and determine what support and resources will be available to their employees (or not) in order to be successful. (pssst…this is why I advocate for the Leadership First Approach™).
And I think we undermine how complex the decision-making process can be. It’s different for everyone and we can forget that fact, creating the illusion that a leadership team should always be able to come to consensus easily. Other times we put undue pressure on the process not allowing for enough time to come to fully developed conclusions (often this is because someone at the top of the chain is overprioritizing something that is not actually urgent).
When a leadership team is not aware of their decision-making process (as individuals and/or as a collaborative) it can stall movement toward conclusion. And if decisions are stalled, then execution and progress are also stalled.
Common roadblocks to decision-making
Ultimately, a leadership team needs to understand their decision-making process, and keep their focus on attaining alignment in order to advance goals, achieve initiatives, and resolve challenges. Here are some of the common roadblocks experienced by leadership teams, that inhibit decision-making and stall progress.
- Lack of honest communication: This can look like a disconnection of words and actions. It happens when a leader(s) on the team uses the “smile and nod” method – so they say one thing but think another. This results in confusion and frustration because what someone says and what they do are discoordinated. And then the team either moves dangerously forward without alignment, or they have to go back to the drawing board and start again (and again, and again…).
- The process of decision-making is different: for each person or sets of people on the leadership team. Some people need more or less time, or more or less information. Some people process internally or externally. Some people need to ask a bunch of questions, and some people need to make lists. Team members have to respect one another’s process and avoid bulldozing one another or becoming unnecessarily frustrated. Decision-making at a higher level is also a developed skill that comes from experience and exposure over time, and the more senior leaders can give a bit of grace to the newer leaders.
- There are too many people involved in decisions: A familiar way to put this is “too many cooks in the kitchen,” so consensus is never achieved. That’s not to say that a larger leadership team will always struggle, but they need to be aware of whether judgments and subjectivity are getting in the way of decisions (versus well informed, objective opinions that happen to differ).
- The paradox of choice: creates confusion and stagnation. If it’s hard to decide on which chips or cereal to buy in the isle, imagine how difficult it would be to make impactful organizational decisions. It can simply be that there are too many choices causing overwhelm, or too many choices create a never ending cycle of “what if xyz is better?” Narrowed and focused choices make a decision more easy and clear.
- Prioritization of actions: can be misaligned (how something is to be achieved or handled). Perhaps there is consensus on the goal, but a team cannot align their decisions around the execution strategy (the “who, does what, and when” path to getting there). This arises from conflicting agendas, priorities, and visions (a.k.a. misalignment).
My recommended starting point to resolve these roadblocks is to shift the teams primary communication style from advocacy to inquiry (P. Lencioni).
Advocacy is the type of communication we see most commonly in conversation and it’s about stating your case or ensuring others see our point of view. Leaders are used to having answers and opinions, and they often desire to have the ultimate say in decision making.
Inquiry is less common, and arguably more important. This kind of communication happens when we ask more questions and listen to understand. This guides leadership teams to seek clarity and be open-minded. It allows leadership teams to understand other perspectives, step away from potential power struggles, and make more informed decisions. It also reduces the roadblock of time constraints because asking questions can either allow for more time to process, or allow the process to move more quickly.
As a result of shifting communications into inquiry, leadership teams can move to decisions more easily and clearly, and in alignment.
Pay attention in your next meeting or conversation and take notice of which style you see used most. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to make a shift…?
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