If you could name the single bad habit that has the most detrimental effect on your team’s decision-making, what would it be? Do you have to ponder it for a moment or did you just shout the answer at your screen?

Even if it takes you a few minutes, it’s worth answering that question because your team is probably capable of changing one thing without too much difficulty and when it comes to decision-making, changing even one suboptimal part of your process will lead to far better results.

Decision-making Mistakes

To jump-start your thinking, here’s my list of the decision-making mistakes I see most often. Recognize your team in any of these?

  1. Coming in cold How often do you find yourself in a meeting where someone raises an issue and expects you to be able to opine without any preparation? This is an unreasonable expectation for anyone and it’s a particular nightmare for introverts and those who prefer to have evidence to back up their opinions (we extroverts aren’t so likely to be held back by the absence of facts). You know those posters that say “no shirt, no shoes, no service?” Meetings should have their own version “No context, no info, no opinion.” Want a little more on this, try Read the damn pre-read people!
  2. Who’s the boss? Do you ever start talking about an issue and wonder who the heck put it on the agenda because no one seems to be taking ownership of the conversation? Brutal. Decisions need owners and if no one is stepping up, it’s either too inconsequential for anyone to care or too hot to handle. Either way, ask the ranking person in the room to make a call about who owns the issue and don’t contribute until that’s clear. Is your team trying to make decisions collectively, you might be interested in Do Teams Decide?
  3. Help me help you Another big waste of time and energy I see often is when the decision-maker isn’t clear what they want from you. You get some vague instruction like “tell me what you think.” The only problem is that when you tell them what you think, they get all offended because they didn’t want input on that! Ugh.
  4. Faux for show How often has someone brought something to the table making it seem like they want your input, when actually what they want is your approval and your accolades? Or they ask for your input but absolutely nothing changes between the plan they walked into the room with and the plan that they walk out with. It’s pretty clear that you are giving input to a decision that was already made. A colossal waste of time.
  5. Refried themes. What percentage of the time you’ve set aside for decision-making is actually used to understand the nature of the problem, the characteristics of good solutions, and the options for moving forward? For most teams, it’s about 10-20%. Instead, 1hr 45min of your 2-hour meeting is taken up by the decision-owner reading out the slides that you had in advance. That leaves no time to actually interrogate the options.
  6. Don’t stick the landing Is your team prone to rushing off to the next meeting without clarifying what you’ve actually agreed on? If you leave a decision-making discussion without defining key terms, aligning on specific steps, identifying the action owners, or setting the deadlines, you aren’t likely to be any further ahead the next time you meet. Any gymnast will tell you, it doesn’t matter what phenomenal acrobatics you accomplish in the air if you don’t stick the landing. You might be interested in this article on how to end a meeting.
  7. Chasing your tail How often do your decision-making meetings meander all over everywhere without any logical order or progression? If you don’t take time to frame the conversation into different sections and then to solve for one thing before opening up another, you’re going to bounce around without much forward progress. There’s a skill to facilitation, if no one on your team has it, you’ll waste considerable time going around in circles. If your decision-making discussions need a little more structure, try this.
  8. Majority rules Are you treating your business decisions as if they were a first-past-the-post vote? If you ignore or marginalize people the minority voices who think differently about the issue, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. The most valuable voices in a decision-making process are the ones who are thinking about it differently. Fewer people violently agreeing, more people making space for dissenting opinions.
  9. Breathing your own fumes Are your decision-making conversations really just giant love-fests where you talk about how awesome your decisions are and cherry-pick the data that support your view? Confirmation bias is real. If you’re not actively seeking out data the disconfirms your default views, you’re deciding by default, not by deliberation.
  10. Fear factor Is your team risk-averse and quick to spot the risk in any potential course of action? If so, I bet you aren’t considering the risk of just staying put or continuing on the same path. Humans are more motivated by fear than by opportunity. How is that showing up in your decision-making processes? If your team is petrified of change but oblivious to the peril you’re already in, try reading The Status Quo is Risky Too
  11. Can’t we all just get along I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the profound mistake teams make by abandoning group discussions when the temperature rises? Whether you rush to a crappy consensus, take it offline (or pretend you will), or just abandon the issue in hopes it will go away, forsaking your responsibilities because making the decision is too uncomfortable is too common and too costly. You might want to dig deeper into the costs of Conflict Debt.

Which of these is the #1 way that your team erodes the quality of decision-making? Let me know. And if you have others that I didn’t mention (I had at least four more I could have added) share those too!

Further Reading

Improve decision-making by separating phases

Dysfunctional Behavior in Disguise

9 Easy Ways to Improve Decision Making on Your Team