I love working for my boss, Linda says with genuine conviction.
After a short pause, she sheepishly adds: Except for this. Brian loves to float ideas by us. We will discuss these ideas for several months. Brian always makes us feel like our input really matters. But after a few months it becomes clear that Brian’s mind had been made up all along.
And we have just wasted 3 months debating something that wasn’t negotiable.
Linda is no Junior staff member. She’s a VP of Operations with 240 employees in her portfolio. Linda thinks tactically. She thinks strategically. She has a lot on her plate, and she does NOT like to waste her time.
I just conducted a 360 feedback process for Reinaldo, a Senior Human Resources executive. Reinaldo is personable. Smart. A creative thinker. The folks in the Business Unit he supports enjoy working with Reinaldo. Except for this one little habit of his that showed up in the feedback, again and again.
Reinaldo wants our input on everything. We spend a lot of time in meetings giving input. Sometimes I want Reinaldo to just say ‘Look, this is what we’re doing. Decision made. Let’s make it work.’ Let’s get on with it already.
Teamwork means never having to take all the blame yourself.” ~ Anonymous
Linda and Reinaldo mean well. They long to be collaborative leaders. They have been well-schooled in modern management thinking. Too well, perhaps. And they apply this collaborative thinking in a not entirely helpful way.
Peter Drucker is a revered modern business and management guru. His work on management by objectives, the notion of self-control and the impact and importance of knowledge workers has shaped many of the practices in modern American corporations, including the notion of how we work in teams.
The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, Drucker famously stated, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we.” They understand their job to be to make the team function.”
Think of this as a foundational quote for modern collaborative teamwork. And please think of the two examples I mentioned earlier as examples of this collaborative thinking gone awry.
Not every decision is negotiable. Not every initiative requires lots of flexibility. Please consider the following limits as you engage one of your teams in conversation. They will be grateful to you when you do.
When A Decision Has Already Been Made
You have made up your mind on Action Y or Initiative X. You’re pretty clear that this will be your course of action. When speaking with your team, don’t suddenly go wishy-washy on them. Here’s something we may want to do – what do you think? Here’s an idea John and I have been kicking around – any reactions? It might be great if we tried Action Y or Initiative X!
Plans dressed up as if they were ideas up for discussion. Open to negotiation. If a decision has been made, tell your team it has been made. If you continuously hold fake discussions where what others say will not impact a course of action, you will have an angry team on your hand. A very angry one.
Use a What/How Frame
If WHAT we will do has been decided, move on from there. Have the HOW conversation. How can we make sure we execute Action Y well? What are the immediate next steps that have to be taken? Who is best suited to take on task A or project B?
You know how to do this. Jump from strategy to tactics. Get granular. Entertain the possibility that folks you work with may get excited about execution. And are perhaps even relieved that a decision was made for them. It has relieved them from participating in a potential going-around-in-circles conversation. It allows them to focus on what many members on your team may like more than anything else: Generate results.
Highlight Potential Blind Spots
Don’t second-guess yourself with your team by questioning a decision you have already made. Own your decision – but allow your peeps to poke some holes into your thinking. Is there anything I have missed? What other factors may we wish to consider here? Are there any blind spots in our thinking?
Conduct a Force Field Analysis. It’s a wonderful old-school consulting tool. A basic T-chart where on the left side you list all the forces that favor the successful execution of a course of action, and on the right side all the forces that may hinder it. For each force that may hinder it, identify ways of removing or mitigating this force. When you conduct a Force Field Analysis, you’re not picking apart a decision that was made. No, you have fully switched into successful execution mode. And that tends to feel really good.
Have the Ownership Conversation
Instead of a belabored conversation in which you hem and haw about a decision that is no longer open for discussion, own that you have made the decision. And turn the ownership opportunity over to your team members. What will it take for YOU to fully own the execution of this decision? What, if anything, can I do to help you get to full ownership?
Full commitment to the successful execution of a plan is a wonderful thing. Foster THAT in your team.
It has been common in my work as a C-Suite Coach that while I engage with my client, the same client is in the midst of working with the venerable McKinsey Consulting Firm to figure out how to improve work processes, or the client has just received a diagnostic report from McKinsey.
I invariably chuckle. The first recommendation from McKinsey is always the same.
Make decisions faster.
I’m a big girl, Linda explains to me. Sometimes just tell me what to do, and I will be happy to get it done.
Let your team off the hook. Don’t torture them with fake open-mindedness. Don’t hold them hostage in conversations where they will not impact a decision of yours.
Own the decision that you have already made.
And move on.