3 techniques to boost decision making
In this post I review three key techniques that can make your meetings more effective.
Have you been in meetings where you feel like you’ve lost your time or where the participants haven’t been engaged? Have you been in a meeting where there were arguments, some decisions made in the end, but clearly not everyone is convinced? These are just a few symptoms of unproductive meetings that can occur at any level: team meetings, weekly department meetings, weekly management meetings or senior leadership meetings.
I wouldn’t go as far as Peter Drucker who said “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better”. Meetings are needed to bring people together for synchronisation and staying updated, for making tactical or strategic decisions and for continual improvement. As some studies suggest, you’re probably spending at least 15% of your time in meetings, so it makes sense to make the most out of the ones that are really needed.
As facilitators, it’s our role to improve the decision making process and help people feel comfortable in meetings. Below I explore three techniques that can help:
- Prepare the meeting with the 7P framework
- Boost decisions with the Decided Protocol
- Involve the participants with Delegate Roles
Prepare the meeting with the 7P framework
The 7P Framework helps with meeting preparation by providing a checklist that covers all questions that should be answered before a meeting:
1. Purpose: why are we having this meeting? Is it really necessary?
2. Product: what specific artefact or output do we want to produce? How will it support the purpose?
3. People: who needs to be there to fit the purpose? What roles will they play?
4. Process: what agenda will be followed?
5. Preparation: what do we have to do in advance? Any homework for the participants?
6. Pitfalls: what risks can we anticipate and how do we address them?
7. Practical concerns: what are the logistics of the meeting (date, room, timing, stationery…).
Sometimes most of the meeting can even be spent updating and getting aligned on the purpose itself. The outcome might not be a detailed action plan as first thought, but a better understanding (with areas of agreement and disagreement) of the topic at hand. This shouldn’t be the case on usual operational matters, but might well be on “elephants in the room” topics that everyone has been avoiding so far.
Apart from the questions themselves, one critical ingredient is not only to share the intent and process of the meeting but also to co-construct the agenda with all participants. This way you can make sure there isn’t some topic, pitfall or even participant that should be added. Obviously all factors are interrelated and can influence each other, so make sure to revisit earlier ones if you uncover new considerations while going down the checklist. With better preparation of the meeting, you can now make progress and go beyond just having a nice (or not so nice) discussion about the topic.
Boost decisions with the Decided Protocol
You can tell when a meeting has been productive by the quality of the outputs. Decisions and action items are clear to all, and most importantly the group feels bought into the outcome. The Decider protocol can help to achieve unanimous decisions efficiently. Here is how I’ve been using it:
- Someone makes a proposal
- Everyone then directly votes with a show of hands
- Thumbs-up means “yes I support this proposal and I am ready to champion it”.
- Flat-hand means “it is probably the best way for us to proceed now. I won’t lead but I commit not to sabotage it”.
- Thumbs-down means “No, I can’t support this proposal as I have reservations”. It may be plain wrong, some details need clearing up or there’s something that is unclear for me.
Of course not all propositions are adopted, and some may be rejected. This process has two advantages: firstly it helps cut short the unproductive discussions going around in circles and enables participants to get to an adopted plan fast for the “easy” topics. When there are only a few “no” votes, the proposer asks them: “What will it take to get you to endorse the proposal?“. The proposer can then amend his original proposal according to the answers. The combination of a proposal, prompt vote and resolution mechanism helps reach unanimous decisions fast.
Secondly, through the resolution mechanism, it also quickly helps to uncover the resistance people may have and what stands in the way of a concrete action plan. You may not get to the bottom of the hard topics behind a rejected proposal right then, but it provides an opportunity for digging deeper – through something like the 5-whys exercise, or a causal-loop diagram for example.
So now you have a meeting where all participants come better prepared, where you can cut short vague discussions and uncover the actual roadblocks to action. Now let’s facilitate the meeting with the help of all participants.
Involve the participants with the Delegate Roles
Does it often feel like everyone is just there to state their own opinion and only care about their own sub-part of the agenda, but no one is really engaged in both the outcomes and dynamics of the meeting? You can address this by having participants assume 4 lightweight roles and help with reaching decisions, build shared understanding, and reflect on the dynamics of the group:
- Timekeeper: make sure the time for the meeting is best used, that people are staying on track toward the purpose of the meeting.
- Scribe (Recorder): capture what is made clear or unclear, what is agreed or disagreed upon, reflecting as best as possible the participants words, rationale and intent.
- Decision-Pusher: keep the single-minded focus of getting to concrete decisions and an action plan: who/when/deadline.
- Observer: observe and pay attention to the interactions within the group and check the alignment with the stated purpose. This works best by setting aside 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting where the observer reports back on how they saw the meeting unfold and invites participants to reflect and discuss improvements for future meetings.
Those 4 roles are easy and relatively simple, which also makes it possible to take on more than one role and still participate fully. These 3 techniques outlined above complement each other nicely. They can be introduced gradually, I suggest in the order presented, which will help you to see some early results and start the path towards more successful and productive meetings.
Of course, these 3 techniques are not the only ones you can use. For instance, we’ve previously talked about setting up some Liftoff workshops to give teams the best start,using memes to increase understanding of individual contributions, and keeping meeting on track by avoiding rat-holes.
What about you: have you experienced these 3 techniques? What other tools are you using to improve group decision-making?