Do you ever feel as though your team has the potential for better decision-making power, but it’s just not happening?
Are you and your team stuck in autopilot and missing out on sharpening your creative edge?
What can you do when you need to help your team make better decisions?
Help them to up their game through shifting their mental, emotional, and physical space.
Shifting Mental Space
You will need to pull your team members out of auto mode. Decisions are made two ways: the first is automatic, instinctive and emotional; and the second is deliberate, slow, and logical. Teams, like individuals, can hit a comfort level in their performance and slide into autopilot when making decisions. This is dangerous, because sliding into autopilot does not require our full attention and this means drifting into limited, biased thinking and missing some pretty important stuff.
When I work with teams to sharpen their competitive edge, I often find that they are stuck because of biased thinking. This is not unusual – we all have biases. These biases are formed by making sense of our world so that we can navigate with a feeling of safety and security. But these biases also get in the way of our best thinking – our out-of-the-box, creative, innovative thinking – that allows us to develop a competitive edge.
What is a tip-off that your team suffers from biased thinking? Language.
Statements like, “That won’t work because…” or “We’ve always done it that way…” “We just don’t have the workforce/budget/green light/(fill in the blank with your own) to be able to do that…”
A simple shift in language may be all you need begin stepping into better thinking. Instead of asking the question, “What should we do?” ask the question, “What could we do?”
What if the limiter did not exist? What if the budget problem was not there? Step outside the box for a moment and start brainstorming. Then, only when you have come up with the “what,” do you back into the “how.” Ask the question, “How might we accomplish this with a limited workforce? Other?” Get creative.
Shifting Emotional Space
Personal agendas and turf issues may interfere with best team thinking. However, once your team is in “brainstorming mode,” its members will be less likely to call themselves out on any personal agendas they have which are holding the team back from its best decisions. A case in point is with a recent client’s top executive team that could not seem to arrive at a decision regarding how to proceed with plant expansion. Arguments for over-extension, no budget, and other deterrents kept coming up in conversation.
Finally, I asked the following question: “If these things were not an issue, what would you need in order to feel comfortable about expanding?”
Mumbling somewhat, two of the executives questioned who would be overseeing the process and the new plant. Then one finally said, “Well, it doesn’t feel good knowing that this might pare down my area of responsibility. If that happens, my career track will slow down tremendously.” The other executive nodded in agreement. And there it was – the real issue. The fear of losing political ground and potential for greater leadership was getting in the way.
I’m happy to say that we figured out that situation to everyone’s ultimate satisfaction. But how do you get in front of this kind of scenario so that it doesn’t slow down or interfere with the group’s best decision-making?
Ask the following at the beginning of the process: “What are the concerns each of you has that we will need to take into account as we explore options?” And give time for each of them to explore their thoughts with the rest of the group. This will uncover limiters that even they didn’t know they had until given the opportunity to reflect. Once you have everyone’s feedback, you’ll want to let them know that if they will just face into some out-of-the-box thinking with you, you’ll then make every effort to make the decision a win-win for everyone.
Shifting Physical Space
Take your team out of the office. Get them into a different physical environment.
Let’s face it – it’s tough to change ways of thinking overnight, and you will need to incorporate the approaches I’ve outlined above over time to realize greatest gains. Meanwhile, work calls and decisions must be made now. To get your team members to begin thinking more creatively and with greater attention, get them out of the office and their work attire.
Book a space at the beach, mountains, or other location that removes them from “office think.” Start your time by asking each of them how life is right now, whether they are renovating a home, planning a vacation… In other words, connect on a personal level before business. Then, frame the meeting with a fun exercise to foreshadow creative decision-making before you get into the meat of the meeting.
One exercise for this that I like a lot is Karl Duncker’s Candle Problem exercise. Duncker was a psychologist who developed this exercise in the first part of the 20th century to test functional fixedness and cognitive bias.
Subjects are given a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a box of matches, and asked to fix the lit candle to the wall so that it will not drip wax onto the table below. Because the objects are so familiar, this makes it difficult for the subjects to think past using them in abnormal ways.
The next time you and your team have some important decision-making at hand, try these three shifts, and let me know how this worked for you.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive coaching, leadership development, succession planning, change, and conflict management. She is also a Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.