Tag: teams

Coach’s Challenge Decision-making

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about decision-making. One of my clients sent me the following article a few years ago. I just stumbled upon it again and realized how much wisdom there is in it.

Your challenge this week is to take a hard look at how decisions get made within your organization. What team myths are getting in your way of making good decisions? How can you apply better decision-making models to your business and projects?

From BusinessWeek Viewpoint, Oct. 23, 2009

Myths that Undermine Decision-Making
By Bob Frisch

When executive teams find themselves unhappy with the dynamics of decision-making, they often seek psychological solutions, going through exercises in teamwork, trust, communications and the like. But through the course of a career spent facilitating these teams, I’ve found that most of the problems aren’t in their psyches, but in the widespread myths about the teams themselves. CEOs and their teams need to take a hard look at these myths, recognize reality and fix the way they make decisions.

Myth 1: A Single Team Makes All of the Big Decisions

Most corporations have in place a top executive team that typically consists of the CEO and direct reports. The rest of the company assumes that all major decisions are made or ratified by that august group.

The reality is that decisions at the highest levels of companies are made in many forums, formal and informal. For example, the go or no-go for an acquisition may be made in ad hoc meetings involving the CEO, chief financial officer, head of business development and the president of an operating unit. Many decisions don’t require the entire executive team, but only a handful of executives — which ones depends on the nature of the decision.

But when the real decision-making teams and processes aren’t overtly recognized, confusion about the locus of authority often results. Executive team members who are repeatedly presented with “done deals” feel disempowered. Before you know it, the group is undergoing trust-building exercises when they should be coming to a common understanding about how various types of decisions will be made.

Myth 2: The Executive Team Is a Body of Equals

Because executives are peers, functional heads on the executive team might believe that they have the same decision rights in meetings as operating executives. And consequently, small operations could expect the same voice at the table as large ones. Think of the U.S. Senate, where Rhode Island carries the same weight as California.

But in reality, some people and some functions carry much more weight than others. It’s more like the House of Representatives, where California has more votes than Rhode Island, and the speaker of the house has more influence than a freshman congressman. Often the executive team isn’t serving as deliberative body at all, but an advisory one much like the president’s Cabinet.

Problems arise when the team isn’t clear about which model of decision-making is in play — Senate, House or Cabinet. Are they being asked to decide? Are they being asked to advise? Are they being informed about a decision that has already been made? Is it “majority rule”? Are the more powerful members brokering a decision? Is buy-in really needed from the smaller constituencies? Was a decision brokered before the meeting started? It’s surprising how often members of a top team involved in a discussion have entirely different views of what kind of input they’re being asked for and, afterward, different views of what purpose the discussion served in coming to a decision.

The solution is not to choose one model of decision rights but simply for the CEO to make clear in advance of a meeting where the group is in the decision-making process, and what is expected from the discussion. This simple step improves discussion quality and heads off confusion and dissatisfaction among team members.

Myth 3: Team Members Should Always Adopt a CEO Perspective

Many CEOs expect members at top-team meetings to take off their functional hats and adopt a holistic or companywide perspective. Top executives owe it to the CEO to provide the wisdom gained from their general business experience and their understanding of the company’s strategy and objectives.

But asking everyone always to think like a CEO can be counterproductive. The head of human resources, for example, may not have much to say from a generalist’s perspective about a proposal for a new plant. He or she may, however, have opinions about hiring or labor relations at the plant. But raising those issues is often perceived by the CEO and other team members as parochial, and the HR head would be accused of being an ineffective team member. And, so, much of the value of functional expertise is lost from the discussion.

As with models of power, the answer is not to choose the generalist or functional perspective, but to recognize which model is desirable for different types of decisions, make it explicit, and overtly manage it.

By addressing all three myths, CEOs build a formalized and flexible range of decision-making environments. Decision-making groups are recognized and chartered, and the nature of any individual’s role at any point in any decision is made explicit. With the ability to choose which configuration is most appropriate when, the CEO can then unleash the full power of conscious decision-making. And the top team can settle into the central role it ought to have with clarity of purpose, process, role and outcomes.

Bob Frisch is the managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group in Boston.

Copyright 2000–2009 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved.

Have a good week!


Note: Many thanks to John Limb, CEO of OCP for sharing this article with me.

8/29/11 “Making a Difference”

Good day, team.

This past week I worked with two teams at two companies in two locations. At one location, I found myself standing at a whiteboard in a conference room talking about team dynamics as the team nodded in agreement about the challenges of dealing with others. At another location, I stood on the deck of a boat, watching whales swim just 20 feet away as the team ooh’ed and aah’ed.

What kind of job is this, I wondered? In all my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined many of the amazing experiences I’ve had while working for a living. In many ways “working for a living” is exactly what some of these experiences have been for me. My work has expanded my life and given it meaning. Each day I am given the opportunity to make a difference in my own life by making a difference in the lives of others.

I consider myself extremely lucky that a decade ago I experienced a mid-life crisis on several levels. I began to realize how unhappy I was with almost all aspects of my life. I was out of alignment, and each day this gnawing inside me became more and more painful. With the help of a coach and a therapist — as well as a health crisis that kicked me in the butt — I began to make better choices in my career and personal life.

Then one day, the coaching profession, very much in its infancy at that time, offered itself up to me when a close friend suggested, “Hey, what about coaching?” I thought he meant volleyball.

It’s funny how that one casual conversation changed my work life profoundly. Coaching has given me the opportunity to touch people’s lives in a way that I never thought possible. As I approached my 50s, making a difference became more and more important to me. The ability to offer something that helps people improve their lives is at the core of my joy.

This past week, I was inspired by one team because of how honest and open everyone was with one another. Managing difficult people is frustrating, and I respected the efforts of these managers as they worked to find good solutions and assume the positive intent of their people. Change the scene and team members, and I was again in awe of a different group of people who continue each day to try to make their company a better place to work. For many of them, the past few years have not been encouraging or successful. A lack of clear vision or mission and many changes at the executive level have left them feeling hopeless at times. And yet, they continue to come back day after day to make a positive difference.

In both cases, I was amazed by the dedication and willingness to serve others. I’m grateful that my job allows me to provide them with guidance in their quest to be better for themselves and make things better for others.

This week, see what makes you happiest in your work life. Perhaps it’s watching your people develop as you mentor and manage them. Maybe it’s your ability to bring a team together to keep everyone focused and engaged as they work on a project. Some of my clients find joy in acting as individual contributors by making a process easier for a team. Others have become subject-matter experts and enjoy providing insight, vision and expertise to their team.

Three wonderful quotes come to mind on this subject. This week, I hope one of them inspires you to make a difference for yourself and others.

“This is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” — George Bernard Shaw

“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” — Tom Brokaw

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale

Have a good week!


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