At the recent XL Leadership Summit, I was asked by an audience member for help with a situation that had been causing some tension on his team. He has a team of 5 people where one member is frequently prolonging decisions. In his words she wants to “discuss stuff…then discuss it more, and more…and then we’re still not there.” His frustration was obvious. “Why can’t we just move on? Why are we still talking about this?” Finally, he asked “How can we support the change to a more positive dynamic?”
Here’s how I answered his question:
How to respond to an indecisive teammate
- Make a positive assumption. Start by assuming that your teammate is trying to do a good job and that there is something legitimate behind slowing down the decision making process. If you start by assuming the person is incompetent, slow, or resistant, the dynamic will be negative from the outset.
- Understand yourself and others. If you have access to a style assessment, use it to see where you and your teammate fall on the spectrum from decisive to indecisive. This will help you understand if the person truly is slower than average or if you’re the one whose goes from zero to sixty a little faster than is prudent.
- Avoid triggering resistance. If you are judgmental or send signals that your teammate is acting inappropriately, it’s likely to make them defensive. Getting them defending why they are moving so slowly is only going to make things worse.
- Move the conversation forward. Use questions to probe for the underlying issue. Focus these questions on how you could move toward action so the energy is directed forward instead of backward. “What’s still left to figure out?” or “Where is your uncertainty coming from?” are both good questions.
- Set limits. If you’re the team leader, set limits for how long the team has to make the decision. Alternatively, set confidence intervals for the person by saying “We’re never going to be 100% certain that this will work. What do we need to cover to get to 80% confidence?” If you’re a team member, ask these ask questions (e.g., How long do we have to make this decision?)
Different people have very different comfort zones when it comes to making decisions. If you feel like your team is being dragged down by a teammate who is slow to decide, try to keep an open mind. Often the person who is putting on the brakes is the one who prevents you from derailing.