A Real-Life Example
Working virtually before lunch, the team had an engaging session about the future. The message was that investment was required to keep their company at the leading edge. The session was delivered by the head of innovation, a member of their team. They needed to agree on a business case to present to the board. Demand was 25% higher than their capacity. And they needed extra resource to innovate to be future-fit. Yet they were expected to deliver a cost neutral investment case. This had created tensions in the team. The head of innovation requested that the team come back after lunch and agree the scope and scale of the function. It was my job to facilitate a team agreement. The Odds Were Against Us I knew we didn’t have time for an endless debate. There was more work to be done in the afternoon, besides just deciding on this significant and contentious part of the business plan. I also knew there was a lack of clarity on some of the terms and there were different interests. We were in 5 locations: 4 in one room; 2 in another room and three individuals in separate locations. From a tech. perspective I had video and chat available to me. I planned the decision-making approach carefully, and chose a six-step approach that would soon become a familiar rhythm for them.
Introducing the Six-Step Rhythm
1. Summarise the decision to be made
I asked someone to summarize the decision to be made. This is an important step that is often missed. Particularly in ambiguous or complex situations.
2. Ask questions for clarity
Even after the excellent summary, the chances were people had different understandings and assumptions. To align on a decision, it would be really important to remove the assumptions and have a shared understanding. Using structured techniques can help here: Spin-rounds, Pop Corn, Pass I chose Spin-Round so that I could control the order of responses. I didn’t want the room with 4 people in it to go one after another as it would disengage others by making them feel as though the meeting was actually taking place without them. I gave everyone 3 minutes to “Ask Questions for Clarity” to the head of innovation and to give their thoughts on the scope and scale of the innovation function in the spin round. I judged that if we had free time to ask questions of clarification separately, we would get in to rabbit holes and spend all our time on clarification. It put responsibility for how the team member managed their time in their hands.
3. Summarise again
After the spin-round I asked someone to volunteer to summarize again, given everything we had now learned. The summary was similar but greatly appreciated as it was different in several important aspects – it demonstrated to everyone that they were being heard, and on a journey together.
4. Make a proposal
I then asked someone to make a proposal – on the decision or on actions needed to move us towards taking the decision e.g. if there was missing information needed.
5. Refine the proposal(s)
The first proposal(s) very rarely hit the mark – this was true in this case, too. We started refining a set of proposal(s) that we created and built together. It was helpful that all of the team were already skilled in Powerful Phrases, and some of the team in Rackham’s Communicating Behaviours. I was especially active in managing people shutting-out, and active in bringing-in people to the discussion if they weren’t getting heard.
6. Test and commit
When we had finally refined all the proposals then it was time to test commitment to it. We used a tool called Fist-5, and because leaders couldn’t see each other very well across the different rooms, leaders entered their spread of opinion in the Chat. We did have a spread of opinion, and I facilitated a process whereby those giving a low ‘2’ score curiously asked why others gave a high ‘5’ score, and vice versa. We refined some of the proposals further until we reached ‘4’s or ‘5’s from all but one person, who themselves proposed that we make this the decision and they would abide by it even though they didn’t agree. We checked this with the Powerful Phrase : “Any objections?” The team was on a high.