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Performance management

8 Techniques to Make Better Decisions as a Team

September 10, 2020

Teams spend a lot of time making decisions, but much less time reflecting on the way they make decisions. So let's dig into that.

"We have no control over outcomes, but we can control the process. Of course, outcomes matter, but by focusing our attention on process, we maximize our chances of good outcomes." — Michael Mauboussin

Making decisions is a big part of working in a team, but often teams think a lot about the decision itself and not at all about the process by which they arrive at it.

This means the opportunity to improve the team’s decision-making skills is often missed. There are two ways to address this – the first is to make a habit of reflecting on important decisions the team makes, and the second is to approach decision-making strategically.

New insights from behavioural economics are helping to reevaluate decision- making. These include techniques to minimise bias and improve the objectivity of decision-making processes.

"I think my key recommendation is to view decisions as a product that gets manufactured in a certain way in an organisation. And viewing it as a product, you want to question the manufacturing process." — Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-prize winning economist

Why is it challenging?

Even when we are aware of it, it’s extremely hard to control our biases and even harder to control these in a group. Biases include:

  • Confirmation bias – we develop a belief about something, and then seek out information that confirms the belief rather than challenges it.
  • Spotlight thinking – we have too narrow a focus and miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  • Emotional connection – we get caught up in short-term emotion and struggle to be appropriately detached.
  • Groupthink – everyone agrees and "so it must be right"
  • Inside view – we tend to use data we have access to and not look "outside" data to challenge our beliefs
  • Endowment – we just stick with what we know
  • Overconfidence – we assume we know more than we actually do.

8 techniques you can use to overcome these challenges

1. Define the big decisions

Ask the team:What are the major decisions we need to make that will affect our ability to achieve our goals?

Simply asking this question can bring to light different perspectives and spark dialogue. Work together to make a list of the decisions the team agree are really important.

2. Involve everyone

If you’re having difficulty getting everyone to participate in key decisions, try looking at ways to improve your team's inclusiveness.

For those of you with a Saberr account, here are three quick ways that you can elicit more participation from your team.

3. Examine your assumptions

In times of uncertainty, it may be difficult to identify the decisions the team needs to make. Assumption mapping is a technique that can help – rather than trying to list the decisions you need to make, list assumptions you have already made. This can help unearth “hidden” decisions the team needs to reexamine.

4. Widen your options

Always consider at least two robust options for every decision you make.

Adding just one alternative makes very good strategic decision-making six times more likely.

5. Test your assumptions

Enforce debate to make sure you consider both sides of the issue. Resolve debates by running experiments to test assumptions.

This helps against confirmation bias – we are twice as likely to consider information that confirms our assumptions than information that tends to refute them.

6. Fire yourself

Give yourself some distance before you decide. ‘Fire’ yourself and ask what your successor would do.

In 1985, Intel was facing stagnation. Andy Grove, the Intel CEO, famously ‘fired himself ’and asked what his successor would do. The result was Intel’s move away from the company’s then core business of memory chips into microprocessors.

Over time, arbitrary choices repeated over and again, come to be regarded as valuable and right. Challenging the status quo can have surprising results!

7. Prepare to be wrong

Set yourselves a tripwire, a milestone date in the future, to measure your progress. Resolve that if you haven’t achieved the progress you’ve identified by that date, you will try something different.

8. Be as transparent as you can about the decision process

It’s good to be transparent on how decisions will be made. There are finite number of approaches: leader decides, consensus, majority voting, expert in the team decides (or a combination). Think which makes most sense for your team.

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