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The Art of Co-Thinking: Three Steps to Making Great Decisions (without taking a vote)

on October 14, 2019
Resources Unlocking Talent

Decision-making within an organization can be a sticky subject. Emotion and opinion are at play, which can cloud facts and impede forward motion to the end result. It seems more common than not that the “Art of Thinking and Deciding” together is a very rare competency for teams at all levels.

There’s the challenge of myopia, where each party involved only has their own team/department/function’s interests in mind. Individual team members may have IQs of 160, but when they come together, the collective IQ of the team is a 22. This is because their view is not holistic or they’re too wrapped up in their individual agenda and not the most strategic issues for the entire team. But there is a better way – a way to take different perspectives into account and to arrive collaboratively at a suitable solution.

It’s time to shift our focus from group votes of “yes” or “no” to co-thinking and collaborative decision-making where we can synthesize the talent of our teams to make great choices. Here’s how.

Three Steps to Achieve Collaborative Decisions

1. Get clear on the issues.
Most companies are less than stellar when it comes to making decisions. They forget that successful decisions should not require a vote. When committed, creative, engaged individuals come together, the critical thinking that happens will almost make the decision for you. But you have to know how to get there. Clarity is job one.

WHAT TO DO: You and your team need to understand: What are we solving for? What decision actually needs to be made? Once you know that, ask yourselves, are we the right group to be making this decision and why? Then you need to assess whether or not you have the facts necessary to make the decision. Nine out of 10 decision scenarios are not fact-based; rather, they are emotional and personal.

If you can clarify what kinds of decisions need to be made, whose job it is to make them, and gather the data needed to contemplate and make the decision, then you are in an excellent starting position.

2. Outstanding decisions start with listening.
Very often, when a situation requiring a decision arises, the people involved are sure they know the answer before the decision process has even begun. Maybe a process doesn’t even exist. We’re all guilty of being overly ready to say what we think and feel, or to impose our ideas on others, instead of being curious. Some of the best thinking about a decision comes from listening rather than talking. And remember, alignment doesn’t mean unanimity, it simply means directional congruence.

WHAT TO DO: Once you have the clarity defined in step 1, you’re ready to consider the information. Let the decision content owner lay out the situation to everyone involved, convey the facts, and review the options available to the team.

Then allow everyone to ask one round of clarifying questions. Allow people only to ask clarifying questions and not simply make declaratory statements with a “don’t you agree?” at the end.. Ensure that each participant has the opportunity to ask and the discipline to listen. This will allow concerns and recommendations regarding the decision to emerge. More often than not, you’ll find the recommendations coalesce around a consistent path.

3. Honor outliers, then move ahead together.
Not everyone will be on the same page immediately. You should expect that at least someone in the group will not share the same sentiments as the others. And, sometimes people take a position on a controversy without fully vetting it, just to play devil’s advocate. However, if a decision is made only 60/40, it is likely that something in step 1 or 2 has gone awry. Either way, the key is to honor the opposing opinions while sticking to the process – revising based on the insights of the group.

WHAT TO DO: If someone has a major problem with where the previous steps have led you, something may be missing. Is there additional information that the person believes is required to make the call? What would they change to make it more acceptable?

Keep the process candid and rigorous, creating a no-holds-barred atmosphere to hear out, honor, and move past challenges. The key is to address conflict with integrity in a safe environment that separates issues from individuals. In the end, some may still disagree, If they’ve had their say, had their concerns heard and vetted by the group, and had their point of view considered, but the group still landed on the same decision, it’s time to move forward.

Once the decision is made, all involved must speak with one voice. Without consistent belief in the choice and behavior to match, the decision will not truly have been made.

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