Scrapping team decisions - your best decision yet!

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For so many leadership teams, there is a tendency for important decisions to be “team decisions”.

Many Chief Executives believe that the more decisions the team takes, the more productive they are (“Great Exec meeting - we took loads of decisions”).

And many Executive Directors believe that loads of decisions are fine, so long as they don’t cramp their style (“Great Exec meeting – hardly any of the decisions affect our plans”).

Personally, I think this is all wrong. 

So often the pressure for team decisions means that significant discussions are closed down too early.

As a result, any innovative and challenging ideas are denied the air space they need to get off the ground, because “it’s time to take a decision!"

A completely different approach

This is why I want to suggest five key principles for a completely different approach towards leading teams. In arguing this case I’m talking to you as the Chief Executive, knowing that only the CEO is in a position to act on these ideas:

1. Very few team decisions

The first key principle is that:

- Executive teams should aim to take very few team decisions.

As a general rule, decisions should be owned by individual Directors accountable for that area of work unless you as CEO decide that for that particular item there is an exceptional reason why you need the whole team to co-own the decision.

Once you adopt this principle, it becomes so much easier to transform the ways you work together as a team. Most of the pressures on Directors to guard their respective “patches” are swept away with one fell swoop.

This leads on to the second key principle:

2. Movement forward in thinking

On each key item for discussion, your shared ambition is no longer to come up with an answer or a resolution.

- Your aim is to achieve positive movement forward in thinking.

This principle is all about Directors using team sessions to develop their own thinking so that they do a better job than they would do without the team.

All Directors have to think about what they want from the team to help them move their own thinking forward.

The issue now is about every member of the team supporting each other in being as effective as they can possibly be as a leader.

3. Individuals own decisions about their responsibilities

To be able to achieve this movement forward in thinking, you also need to adopt a third key principle:

- The Director presenting an issue to the team retains ownership of any decision as THEIRS.

For this to work, the owner of each item needs to start off by telling you:

- what they want to happen

- where they’re most confident in their thinking

- and where they’re most unsure in their thinking and would value input/ ideas from other members of the Executive team.

This is essential for the rest of the team to know where they’re coming from and what they want from them.

Everyone knows that the person introducing each topic will be the one taking the decision about what to do next, in the same way that they will be the decision-maker in relation to the topic that they introduce.

It’s because this issue of ownership is so clear that other members of the team can step freely and confidently into the role of becoming their support group.

It is this principle that changes the whole dynamic of a team meeting.

It reassures everyone introducing an item on an issue that really matters to them that no-one is going to impose a team decision on them.

It transforms the challenge dimension in team-working from one where people are guarded and defensive into one where you’re all getting stuck into helping each other to be more creative and successful.

This leads on to the fourth key principle:

4 The individual owner sums up the discussion on their item

- At the end of each discussion, you as CEO ask the person owning the item to sum up where they have got to in their own thinking as a result of the debate.

After summing up, they make clear that they will “sleep on it” before deciding what is the right thing to do.

They have been able to invite others to take apart and reconstruct the “jigsaw” they have been holding in their mind, know that once they have reflected on the outcomes of the discussion, they can take it apart and put it back together again in whatever way they think is best.

As part of their summing up, the owner of an item tells the rest of the team when they will send an email round telling you all what course of action they propose to take and what role they would like the rest of you to play in relation to that. It’s important they give you a day and stick to it.

There is one more principle that’s essential to this approach succeeding:

5. Everyone is ready to change tack if necessary

The principle here is that

- Individual Directors have the right to go ahead with a decision that others might regard as ill-advised, so long as they are ready at any time to accept that they have got it wrong - and change tack accordingly.

Put more simply, Directors don’t let their ego hold them back from saying to their colleagues, “Sorry, you were right and I was wrong”.

This is why it’s always so incredibly important that every Executive Director has their own “early warning system”, and whenever there is any sort of risk with a decision they make sure that they have proper checking and warning systems in place.

Every Exec Director needs to know that there would be serious consequences if someone came to you as CEO and said they thought something was going wrong, and had been told not to say anything because the lead Director is too stubborn to change tack.

Clarity of accountability

The great attraction of this model is that there is real clarity of accountability.

Everyone feels truly empowered in relation to the area where they have lead responsibility because the role of others is to advise and support them in becoming as effective and successful as they possibly can be as a leader.

As we all know, the current model of nearly all Executive decisions being owned by everyone in the team works okay(ish) when things are going fine.

It’s when things begin to go wrong that it can so easily break down.

In these moments, there’s usually only one thing that every member of the team can agree on, and that’s that

“It’s not my fault, guv!”

People are reluctant to change tack because it was “an Exec team decision – and they need to agree they were wrong before we can do anything differently”.

In business where top performance requires agility and speed, the custom and practice of teams owning many decisions can get in the way – big time.

For CEOs who pride yourselves on wanting to be the best, it’s time to let this go.

Three key virtues

This leadership model offers you the chance to bring to the fore three key virtues:

- clarity of thinking

- clarity of accountability

- and a shared commitment to moving forward in your shared thinking and learning.

You’re leaving behind the blur and fudge that are so often part of the shallow consensus of team decisions.

You really are insisting that clarity and candour and individual responsibility come to the fore, alongside the great virtues of high trust working and mutual support.

If you can make this counter-cultural approach part of your ways of working as a leadership team, I honestly believe that you’ll be blown away by what it makes possible.

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