Critical Conversations For Dummies
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When critical conversation techniques are used during the decision-making process, there is often better follow-through on the decisions made during the critical conversation because more than one person is involved in making decisions. Following is a list of four common approaches to decision-making:

  • Decide and announce: One person decides and announces the decision. When a leader controls the resources and output of the group (and therefore the group itself) she frequently tells people how to decide or makes the decision for them.

    In a critical conversation, a decision that will lead to change is a decision that’s made together. If a leader makes decisions for the group, you can pretty much guarantee that the team is just a group of people who aren’t really embracing change because they’ve had little or no input.

  • Sometimes decide-and-announce is necessary in business. But remember that If a CEO and CFO, and perhaps one other leader in the company, get together to decide something, it isn’t a team decision — it’s an executive decision.

  • Individual input sought and leader decides: Another approach to decision making is when a leader seeks input from individuals, but then makes the decision on what to do on her own. This type of decision-making is a telltale sign that people are working individually on results, with little collaboration.

    In this type of decision-making, the leader consults people one-on-one and then uses that information to make a decision. Although the decision-maker listens to the members in the group, the group doesn’t listen to one another. Therefore the group isn’t a team, but just a cluster of people working on a project or goal.

    For example, the CEO of the company asks a few of the senior people in the firm what they would do to increase revenue, and then the CEO sends out a memo with his decision. What’s the result? Because she uses some input but not other input, the decision may be met with a lack of buy-in because not everyone contributed.

  • Team input sought and leader decides: A leader may gather input from the team and then decide. Larger teams often operate quite well when their members are given the opportunity to examine options, acknowledge opinions and ideas, and then the leader or a subgroup of individuals on the team makes the decision.

    The key to the success in using this team decision-making approach is that the decision reflects the discussion. If a team works together as its members explore what’s happening and possible solutions, and then the leaders who make the decision completely disregard the input, well, then this model is merely a façade and more of a decide-and-announce method.

    Additionally, after decisions are made, the leaders need to be present them back to the team. For example, a team may discuss the pros and cons of buying a new software system, and then a few people make the final decision. Before the decision is announced publicly, the decision is presented to the team.

    This team decision-making model works well when a team frequently works together, has made decisions together in the past, and has a high level of trust within the team. Also, the teams need to be built of people that are trusted by employees who aren’t part of the decision-making team.

    If the team members are just subsets of leaders, it isn’t an improvement from decide-and-announce. During conversations that involve significant change, frontline councils and employee ambassadors are often ideal representatives to be involved in the discussion.

  • Decide together: Collaboration takes time, but when a team is just forming or when the stakes are incredibly high or very personal, deciding together and agreeing to live with the decision is the best option. The goal of deciding together is to create a solution that the team can live with and support. When a team decides together, it benefits from sharing information and ideas in real time.

    Making decisions by using the critical conversation principles not only elicits feedback from employees, but also helps a team gain clarity over specific next steps by building consensus on what the team is solving. After all, a team that works together to decide (rather than just work as individuals) is ready to identify the right steps to move forward.

Groupthink occurs when a group takes on its own persona, and individual opinions on the team are either ignored or disregarded. An experienced facilitator can help steer teams away from a one-mind philosophy.

In the absence of an expert facilitator, before making decisions on the problem or solution, ask, “Have we talked about and looked at all possible solutions?” Teams reaching consensus are wonderful, as long as the consensus is reasonable. If a group doesn’t take all ideas and opinions into consideration, sometimes groups can make worse decisions than individuals.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Christina Tangora Schlachter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach. She has created and taught courses on communication skills, crucial conversations for new managers, communication for professionals, and dealing with difficult conversations. She is the coauthor of Leading Business Change For Dummies and is the Chief Leader of She Leads.

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