Breaking Free from Routine:

3 Tips for Improving Decision-Making Quality and Velocity in Leadership Teams



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Written by: Julie Williamson, PhD

Over the years, there have been many reports of organizational transformation failures that resulted in wasted investment, irrecoverable time and investment, and lost market positions instead of a growth trajectory. When companies look back on these events, they often talk about how the culture was resistant to change or the technology didn’t work for the environment. But, in my experience, it is rarely the change management or technology that gets in the way of transformation.

So Many Decisions, So Little Time

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Have you ever wondered why leadership teams struggle to break out of old routines and habits? It seems like the gravitational pull of business as usual is impossible to escape, even with a compelling business case. There are actually a few really good reasons why even the best financial models fail in the face of human inertia. A lot of it has to do with decision-making processes.

Various research studies have consistently found that adult humans make on average around 35,000 conscious decisions each day (children, by the way, make around 3,000). Almost 250 of those are related to food alone – which to take, the apple or the bag of chips? The pizza or the salad? Other decisions revolve around what to wear, who to spend time with, and how to spend that time. More serious questions might include names to pick for a new baby or whether to take a job in another city. At work, leaders face decisions about where to spend budget dollars, who to hire, and what kind of deal to strike with a customer or a partner.

It’s no wonder humans have developed strong coping mechanisms to help navigate the complexity all this decision-making can introduce. Our habits and routines reduce or eliminate our need to make thoughtful decisions. Have you ever felt like you were on autopilot in the grocery store? I buy the same yogurt every week because I don’t want to spend cycles on it. Habits are awesome – they reduce complexity and streamline our thinking around decisions.

The Trap of Habits

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But habits can also be traps. For all I know, a fabulous new yogurt is out that I might love, but I’ll never know because I’m so entrenched in my habit. And for all you know, there’s a massive opportunity you are missing because, as a leader, you are defaulting to habituated decisions.

Now take all of that and multiply it across a leadership team! 35,000 decisions x 12 team members…. All with their own mindsets, beliefs, and assumptions driving habituated responses. It is no wonder teams get stuck in ruts too – watch our YouTube short for more on this topic!

It is so easy for teams to get stuck in routine decision-making and stop thinking through the defaults that are driving their results. Unfortunately, this means losing sight of how decisions are being made, and the processes the group is using become invisible, just like my yogurt selection.

3 Tips for Improving Decision-Making Quality and Velocity

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What can a team do to improve decision-making quality and velocity? Here are three things to try this week:

  1. Clarify Roles: Role clarity helps teams understand the level of effort required from different people in the decision-making process. We use the ‘voice / vote / veto’ approach to help people know what is expected of them so they can participate at the right level. Just this one approach can fundamentally shift a team’s ability to make decisions together.
  2. Prioritize Team Decisions: Prioritize decisions that need to be made with input from the whole team and allocate time specifically to making the most impactful decisions together. Have those discussions earlier in your team meetings while people are still fresh.
  3. Reflect and Learn: Ensure the team reflects on and learns from decision-making experiences – not just the outcome of the decision, but the process by which you arrived at the decision. This analysis can provide valuable data points for how to improve as a team.

Decision-making is a key part of knowing how to lead together. Our alignment work with teams helps them to create clarity around and connect to the mindsets, group dynamics, and trade-offs that are defaults in their processes. By making those visible, it becomes possible to shift them in powerful ways. Contact us today to get you and your team aligned to deliver together on your most ambitious goals.

Exceptional Results Come from Alignment

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Alignment is a solvable problem for those willing to do the work, and the challenge of alignment shouldn’t hold you or your team back. Schedule a 30-minute conversation to learn how alignment can result in a greater impact for you & your team.