Garin Rouch 0:12
Hi, and welcome to our first webcast. Dani and I, over the next four sessions, will be looking at leadership and remote working. The webcasts that we’re running are to try and bridge the gap between academic research and management practice.
There’s a lot of myths that have emerged around leadership practice. There’s an enormous amount of really good high quality academic research that leaders could be using in their day-to-day practice. And that HR people could be advising their managers to implement on a day-to-day basis as well. So, what we want to do is design these highly practical sessions.
We’ve done the hard work of sifting through the academic research. And in each one of these sessions, we’re going to be identifying the top five actions that leaders can take to address the specific issue that we’re looking at. So, in this session, we’re going to be looking at what leaders can specifically do to support their people at this really important time.
In the second session, we’ll be looking at teams, and what leaders can do to actually optimise their performance. And in the third session, we’ll be looking at decision making, which has a huge body of research behind it. It’s about how can leaders actually use this decision-making research to make sure that the quality and acceptance of the decisions that they’re making are much higher. And then the fourth and final session is the really pertinent topic of wellbeing. So how can leaders leverage the extensive research that’s been done to support the well-being of their people, and in the process, actually enhance performance as well?
Dani, and I are really, really looking forward to working with you over the next few sessions. Just some background to me. My name is Garin. I’m an organisation development consultant. I’ve been running my own practice for 10 years, and I’ve been an OD consultant for a total of 15 years altogether. And Dani do you want to introduce yourself.
Dani Bacon 2:02
So until earlier this year, I was Director of People and Business services at Investors in People. I’ve now set up my own consultancy business to help organisations take a more strategic approach to all things people and make their organisations more effective and human.
Garin Rouch 2:15
So of all the subjects we could have looked at with academic research, why did we look at remote working? Well, first of all it’s kind of here to stay. And the second thing is that remote working the academic research shows negatively impacts team effectiveness. There’s a number of big meta studies that have been done that have found that remote working affects things like team dynamics, the frequency of communication, can be the cause of interpersonal conflict, reduces the amount of trust and social interaction on teams as well. So it really does show that remote work needs a lot of work from leaders to actually help them become more effective as well. But what’s really interesting is the research on an individual basis is actually painting quite different picture. Dani why don’t you share some of the insights that you’ve been finding.
Dani Bacon 2:59
Yes, absolutely. So, there’s been several bits of research done over the last few months. And all of them agree that people feel more productive at home. I think the stats say about 80%, or more of people feel as effective or at least as effective working from home as they were in the office before COVID. There are a few exceptions, women with childcare responsibilities and low earners, and people not in roles that are conducive to working from home. But the research also shows that people are just happier working from home. And that’s pretty much all people across all age groups. Older people tend to be happier and self-employed there’s not much difference in their happiness levels. But then a lot of those working from home before.
One of the big factors is how connected people feel to their organisations and colleagues. So, the one of reasons for this positive sentiment around working for home is a better work life balance. And interestingly, people aren’t using that time purely for leisure. They’re using it for leisure, they’re using it for learning and also using it to do more work.
They like the flexibility, the obvious ones around childcare and caring, but also meeting business needs. So, people are starting work early in the day to work in one time zone, taking a break of the middle of the day to do their own thing and then coming back online in the evening to work with a different time zone. People think their stress levels are lower. And for some people, there’s a belief that they’re on a more even playing field in terms of opportunities, promotions and jobs, that geographies become less of a less of a factor.
The other interesting thing the research has shown is a causal relationship between productivity and mental health when working from home, and we’ll talk about wellbeing in session number four. But basically, it shows that a decline in mental health can affect productivity. But a decline in productivity can also affect mental health. There’s a real vested interest in making sure everybody can work productively, and effectively, not only for their organisations, but for their own wellbeing.
Garin Rouch 4:48
And I guess obviously, as more people become vaccinated and more people return to work, there will still be that real kind of hybrid mode. Those that are actually working purely remotely, some that are working hybrid and some of those who completely work in the office as well. So, it’s going to require a more sophisticated kind of sophisticated approach to leadership, isn’t it?
Dani Bacon 5:08
Yes, absolutely. I think that the research says most people want to come back to the office two days out of five. There’s very few people that want to be back in the office five days out of five. So, as managers and leaders, we’re going to have to get used to that more complex way of working.
Garin Rouch 5:21
And so we wanted to identify, what are the top 10 challenges that the researchers are actually identifying? I’m going to take you through the first five that I’ve seen. Within teams, one of the challenges the leaders will be finding is just reduced connection and engagement for employees. That’s going to lead to reduce sense of commitment to each other, and the organization as well. So you may find that teams are finding it more difficult to collaborate and less likely to cooperate as well as a result of that. And also it’s going to be more difficult to actually establish and build trust in teams as well. There’ll be people joining organisations that have never actually met their colleagues in person. So as a manager one of the key things that they have to build in their teams is trust and loyalty, that’s going to be even harder to actually do. So how do you go about doing that.
And the fourth one we wanted to look at, as well as the challenges is the concerns around the fairness and level playing field between office and remote staff. Research often finds that remote staff feel they’re missing out on what’s actually happening in the office, office based staff often feel that they’re picking up the slack from he remote workers and also the performance evaluation. Not the appropriateness of the appraisal, but just evaluating the performance of remote workers is much harder. They actually find that there’s a harsher judgment on the performance of remote workers than people that are present. And finally, one of the other key challenges that leaders are facing is the quality of decision making. And also the pace of decision making as well. What are the five that you found?
Dani Bacon 7:02
So the first one is around access into access to information. There’s just more information that people need, and it’s more distributed in the virtual world. So that can be problematic.
The next one is a lack of clarity about culture and behavioural norms. A lot of people are joining organisations having never been in the office and met their colleagues face to face. So how do they pick up on what the culture is?
The third one is that conflicts more likely, and much harder to spot. If you’re in a face to face meeting, and people are unhappy, you can sense that, you can tell and you can go and have a chat with somebody afterwards and do something about it, but much harder to spot that on a face to face call, though, I did spot that Microsoft has a lot of lodged a patent to record and score meetings in terms of body language. So quite well, that’s going to look like I don’t know, but maybe we’ll have a computer telling us who’s happy and who’s not. I don’t know, it’s a scary thought.
The fourth one’s around matching the capacity and capability of the organization in terms of wellbeing and matching that to the needs and expectations of employees.
And then lastly, it’s loss of a sense of control over what your what your team is doing. remotely. If they are next to you then there’s almost the illusion that you can you know what’s going on. Virtually that’s harder.
Garin Rouch 8:12
When we were discussing the content and all the studies to go into this, there’s one thing that you raised was something called, was it hedonic adaptation? That, in particular, it seems like something that’s really interesting for managers to keep in mind, and also for HR practitioners,
Dani Bacon 8:27
Absolutely, on all sorts of scales. It’s the idea that we adjust to great things over time, we get used to them. So even really exciting things like a lottery win, disappointingly, over time, we will kind of assimilate and get used to the idea of having millions of pounds sat in the bank, and it becomes less exciting, and more ordinary. So with remote working, yes, at the moment, lots of people are happier at home but over time, they’re going to forget the horrible commute and the expensive season ticket and all of that stuff. Overtime, they’ll forget that, and they’ll just get used to working from home that will become the new norm. So organisations and leaders are going to have to up the game in terms of keeping their staff engaged and happy
Garin Rouch 9:05
Before we start to share the top five with you, which is the specific areas to be thinking about as a manager, it’s important to share our methodology as well. So Dani and I have done a fairly exhaustive search and reading of different studies, and this is everything from, literature reviews to rapid evidence assessments to trying to choose sort of the highest graded papers in terms of quantitative and qualitative research as well.
And as a result, things that we thought might make the cut in the top five didn’t make the cut. So, for example, there’s limited evidence that leadership styles actually affect the effectiveness of virtual teams, there’s just not enough evidence yet to support it. There’s some research starting to find that transactional leadership impacts virtual teams in a certain way and transformational leadership affects leading teams in a certain way, and that there’s something around humble leaders are maybe a more suited leadership style for this particular period. So the five that made the cut are things to really just bear in mind. If you don’t do anything else then think about these particular top five areas. So Dani, do you want to just kick off our top five?
Dani Bacon 10:15
So, first of our top five was setting expectations. Looking at the research, we found that a shared understanding of virtual teams can have a really significant impact on the ability of that virtual team to work effectively. It’s the case for all teams but it’s even more important for a virtual team.
It helps if people have a shared understanding of the team’s goals and everything else. It helps them anticipate and predict the behaviours of their team members, helps them understand what’s going on. And they can work more autonomously, that having to constantly check in with each other to know what’s next, where are we going.
That shared understanding is about a variety of things. It’s not just about the goals the team’s trying to achieve, or the tasks it needs to deliver on. It’s about the work and team processes, how people are going to work together and about the members themselves and the roles they’re carrying out. So who does what?
As a leader, you need to you need to frame the context for your team, like a e-orientation. So remind the team of the purpose, share profiles and information about team members so they can get to know each other, be clear on what the expected behaviours are, clarify roles and responsibilities, clarify the task and outcomes and timescales. And also there’s also value in asking your team to share their feedback and expectations on how they’re going to work together, and how you’re going to collaborate.
Garin Rouch 11:27
It’s amazing as a consultant, how many times you ask managers or ask different members of teams, and they don’t actually know what other members of the team actually do. Or someone’s role was this, but it’s actually evolved into that where people just don’t understand and so they don’t understand the interdependencies.
Dani Bacon 11:44
Particularly when we’re in a really fast moving, changing environment, people’s roles change all the time so the more you can do to explain that the better.
I think the other the other thing, and we’ll talk more about this in the next session around teams, but that’s about creating space, and facilitating ways for people to get to know each other. Social cohesion is really key to effective virtual teams and trust. So the more you can do to kind of build social cohesion within your team, the better. But as we say we’ve got ideas on that next time that we’ll share with you.
And then lastly, the research also found that availability and responsiveness is really, really important in virtual teams. So having a team member be responsive and available to talk to you is the thing that really helps build trust, particularly early trust in, in teams. So as a leader, it’s about formalizing communication norms, being clear on what tools you’re going to use, and why you’re going to use them and how quickly somebody should respond to emails and instant messaging do you don’t has misunderstandings about how those tools are being used.
Garin Rouch 12:46
Well just pick up a couple of points there as well. So trust is absolutely essential to the performance of teams, isn’t it? And I guess some of the things that we’re both picking up in meetings with organisations is we’re starting to hear lots of employees sort of, say, describing other employees saying, well, “I just don’t really know what to do all day”. And that sort of absence of Trust has a huge impact, doesn’t it?
Dani Bacon 13:05
I mean, sometimes you get a manager who says they don’t know what the team does.
Garin Rouch 13:10
I guess the other thing as well, it’s like those norms and expectations, isn’t there? We talked about that kind of deep work, didn’t we? Which is the ability to actually really focus on work. People just need that time, don’t they? Because that’s something you’ve been thinking about?
Dani Bacon 13:26
Yes, absolutely. I think as a leader you have to make it okay for people to block out a couple of hours in their diary to really concentrate on something that that needs thought that you can’t do in the five minutes in between one zoom call and another. Unless you set that expectation with your team, people aren’t going to do that, they’re not going to know it’s okay to block their diaries out and ignore slack messages for a couple of hours to let them get on with the important work.
Garin Rouch 13:49
And I think I think also there’s quite a lot of psychological safety that’s missing at the moment, people are seeing colleagues or people that work there a long time being made redundant, or feeling they need to be seen to be working and being almost overly responsive as well, that’s getting in the way of actually doing the deep work, which is actually getting the work done at a high level, isn’t it?
Dani Bacon 14:10
And I think in the wellbeing session, we can talk about presenteeism and the kind of pressures that place is on people as well that constantly being on and available.
Garin Rouch 14:19
That’s a really strong start. So number two is all about the quality of communication from leaders. The research really highlights a differentiator for high performing and engaged teams during COVID has been basically the quality and perceived transparency of communication from leaders. It’s probably an indication of our times that studies have found that out of government, official news outlets and social media, employers are actually the most trusted source of information. So that’s an incredible gift to employers, and it’s really important to maintain that as well, but it’s easily lost, isn’t it?
Dani Bacon 15:01
It’s a big responsibility as well, for an employer to be the most trusted source of information, particularly in the era we’re in now.
Garin Rouch 15:08
Yes, so how do you actually do quality of communication. It’s very easy to say, give quality communication, it’s another thing to do quality communication. And one element of it is transparency, which we’ll just talk about in a little bit more detail in a second. But it’s the ability to actually read the people that you’re communicating to. It’s actually finding moments of human connection, so not overly relying on written communication. So it’s highly likely if you’ve got a team of six, for example, that you will have a blend of people maybe with a preference for introversion, and a preference for extroversion. People with a preference for introversion will often prefer to receive information in writing, which is great, but it’s really important that we don’t overly rely on written communication, that we’re getting really good messaging out there consistently. Actually engaging with people in voice, either over video or over phone, as well.
And it’s really important to understand the emotional temperature in the team as well. Now, it seems they’ve been flat out , they’ve done five years of transformation in five months, and this is still ongoing, all this uncertainty, teams are tired. It’s really important that you meet teams where they are with your communication, acknowledge how hard they’ve worked, the pressures they’re under.
Trust does go up when people hear your voice, and the jury with the research is out on video. If a person looks uncomfortable when communicating on camera, then trust can go down. Practice makes perfect but it’s still okay to pick the phone up. And it’s really important to show and make time to show compassion and care. Now, as we said, not everyone finds communicating very easy. And there’s an incredible statistic about the number of reluctant managers in this country. So it may be that the technicians that have been promoted into the role of manager that may be unprepared. What is that statistic around how many reluctant managers there are?
Dani Bacon 17:05
Four out of five accidental managers in the country, which is quite staggering, really. So that’s managers who’ve not had any training on, on how to manage or how to lead, or any expectations set by their organization about what was expected of them as a manager.
Garin Rouch 17:19
That can sometimes be a scary place to be with such a big responsibility. So your organization may have training programs, there’s a whole wealth of information. Some good books – things like ‘Soft skills for hard people’. Clear leadership by Gervase Bushe is always a good reference point, we’ll put some references in the comments on if you’re watching this on YouTube. But feel free in the comments to add some recommendations that you might add as well.
And the other important thing to remember as well is things like empathy. So try emotional empathy. So know to mirror and feel what others are actually experiencing right now. And things like cognitive empathy, so actually take the other person’s perspective when you’re communicating, a lot of leadership communications actually just transmitting, and always be asking good questions and listening as well.
What was the third point?
Dani Bacon 18:08
The third point is about default transparency. So we said that access to information is just much harder in a virtual environment, you’ve got more information to be shared, it’s more distributed, and the risk is people are going be left out of the loop. And that just causes confusion, frustration, and ultimately poor-quality decision making for your organization and duplication of effort.
The research strongly points to transparency being a key lever for effective virtual teams. So that’s about making everything open and available to everyone unless there’s a really specific reason why you’re not doing that. And that’s kind of the flip, kind of reverse really of the way people kind of tend to operate. That’s quite a mindset shift for a lot of organisations and leaders. So it’s down to the leader really to role model, it’s about being really clear on expectations around information, sharing, what needs to be shared, how you’re going to share it, and when, it’s about establishing procedures for that, and norms for communication.
It’s about as a leader, it’s about taking ownership for making sure that happens. So recognising rewarding when it does happen, monitoring and intervening when you see it’s gone off track or something’s not being shared in the way you’re hoping, giving people the support and training, they need to make that shift to a different way of working and facilitating sharing information of data about day to day activities and being really transparent with each other about when things have gone off course. Because there’s nothing that’s going to erode trust more that if you say you’re going to do something by Tuesday, and then Wednesday rolls around, you still haven’t done it, then Thursday. If we can just tell people earlier than that, that builds trust.
So the other thing in this arena is what’s called asynchronous working. So the idea that you start to capture everything, rather than doing all by face to face or via zoom, you start using platforms to capture information in written form. You’re codifying workplace knowledge essentially in creating some sort of knowledge bank of what you’re working on.
So there’s certainly some of the remote only companies like Basecamp gets talked about a lot and Git lab and Automattic the company behind WordPress, they’ve adopted that approach. And I think one of them at least says if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. So that’s quite an extreme version of things. But as you move to more virtual working, I think it’s worth looking at
Garin Rouch 20:18
I guess what research is actually proposing to managers is quite a sea change, isn’t it? Because if we’re talking about being transparent with information, there’s a lot of information on managers desk right now that maybe they’d be worried about scaring staff or overwhelming them or making them feel insecure. So the academic research actually flipping that. And so it’s okay to disclose more of that. Is that right?
Dani Bacon 20:40
Yes, that’s exactly what it’s saying. I think it’s also important to realize that is this default to transparency is not just about sharing task information. It’s about sharing social information and contextual information about the environment and the culture. And as a leader, it’s about thinking and working out loud. So being really explicit about the message you’re trying to get across to your individuals or your team, go overboard in explaining the rationale because things are so easily misinterpreted, when you’re working virtually. And there’s less informal opportunities to check up. So if you hear something in a meeting, and you’re not entirely sure what’s meant you’ve got that chance, as you leave the meeting, to say “you said that, what did you mean?” That doesn’t happen when you’re in a virtual environment. So if you leave people with gaps in their knowledge, they’re going to fill them in, on their own. We’re programmed as humans to make sense of things. So it’s better as a leader to explain and give people the information to fill in the gaps rather than leave them to their own devices to come up with horror stories.
Garin Rouch 21:34
I love that thought of working out loud. It helps take people on the journey when you’re making decisions, doesn’t it? Kind of like what is in your mind? Or what are your considerations when making key decisions? And it increases things so that people don’t necessarily feel decisions being done to them? They’re actually going with them, aren’t they?
Dani Bacon 21:56
Yes, absolutely. And even if it’s difficult news that you’ve got to share, the more open and transparent you can be, then the better people react, people don’t like uncertainty. So give them as much certainty as you can, even if it’s not great news.
Garin Rouch 22:08
If anyone ever wants to take the reading any further, some really good stuff by Barry Oshry, that looks at the importance of actually sharing your information and carving out responsibility and sharing that with your staff to empower them as well.
Dani Bacon 22:20
And then just last point, on default transparency, it picks up the cultural behavioural norms again so the cultural and behavioural norms are less visible in a virtual world. So as a leader, you, you really have to step up and take responsibility for explaining the culture and the norms, making them explicit, name it when you see it operating a practice, codify it, get it written down, and tell stories that reinforce that culture so you can keep it alive, even if you’re not physically all together.
Garin Rouch 22:45
So number four, and something I’m madly committed to encourage all organisations and all leaders to, to really embrace is leader as network broker. It’s quite a fancy term, but it’s very simple. And it’s just organisations by their very nature, we like to divide people according to their special specialism. So we have sales professionals here, finance professionals here, marketing professionals here, we kind of group them. And that makes complete sense as well. But what that means is often teams are very good at communicating within themselves. But when it comes to actually, inter team communication, that’s where things start to fall down.
So siloed teams are endemic across all most organisations. And remote working just is just rocket fuel to this. And a lot of the organisations that we’re working with, come September when, after the massive adrenaline rush of just trying to and cope and operationalize all the changes were like, our teams have really drifted apart. And the academic research really shows that the role of leader actually connecting different departments to that can have a huge impact on performance.
So let’s get tactical. Now, some of the things that leaders can do to actually optimize their organisations is to reactivate those dormant ties, those relationships that have kind of just gone their separate ways, just because we’ve been so busy today. It’s about refreshing them.
And it’s also about reviewing your relationship. So what are the quality of the ratios, give them a score of zero to 10 and ask them, what’s the score that you would give our relationship out of 10 right now, and then look for specific examples. And that can help you focus your energies about which relationships to build on.
And also, it’s not necessarily in your exact domain of control, it’s actually seeing things fall between the gaps between other teams as well. So connecting, encouraging and facilitating them to connect with each other. So reaching outside your immediate circle. And we’re always saying that one of the most important skills for contemporary leaders in organisations in 2020 is the power of facilitation. And that means the ability to actually facilitate meetings and communication between different parts of the organizations, with your counterpart managers, and what that means, basically is if you have a good relationship with your counterpart manager over here, your team, when they work together, it will make their lives so much easier.
There’s so many organisations where the teams don’t get on, they go up to the manager, the manager then talks to the other manager, and their manager then tells their team and back and forth, and it’s so inefficient, you can just basically circumvent all of that by building relationships.
And also, it’s ensuring that meetings aren’t issue related so many meetings are just like, let’s deal with the topics of today. The meetings that are really high value are the ones where we’re talking about, what is the next three months and six months? What does your pipeline of work look like? What am I working on, that’s going to impact you, and vice versa. So no surprises. And also we’re thinking together, because it’s that rather than sort of saying, this is what we’re doing, and this is what we need you to do. We’re actually thinking, what can we do to actually share our knowledge to make sure we’re coming up with the best solutions.
And the other tactic I’m always encouraging managers to do and I know, you’ll be the same as well Dani, is inviting yourself into the team meeting of other teams, just, elbow your way in if you have to, just turning up showing your face, engaging with them, answering their questions, telling them what you’re up to, understanding how their actions impact your team and vice versa, and really explore the issues, that is just a great thing.
And also encouraging your team to do the same thing as well. And often when we’re managing things like technical specialists that kind of communication piece doesn’t always come most naturally. So it’s important to actually coach your people to engage more effectively, and actually to join those initial meetings just to get them going and get the relationship built, and then start to step out as well.
Dani Bacon 26:43
And I think it’s surprising how quickly that that pays dividends, they don’t have to be long meetings. And you can see just really brief conversations, how quickly that builds up understanding and, and, yes, better team working. So you don’t think it needs to be a kind of half day workshop that’s kind of massively planned out, it can be small moments that really have an impact.
Garin Rouch 27:03
Yes, short, sharp interactions, really punchy, get you place on the agenda, see the agenda, tell the manager what you want to talk about, and then just do it, don’t kill them with PowerPoint, whatever you do.
And the other thing that we wanted to really encourage is, don’t let your team talk negatively about other teams. It is probably one of the most basic human instincts. It comes from the Savanna, with Stone Age man, seeing other tribes, and it’s endemic, again, in organisations. If you let your teams talk negatively about other teams what happens is it starts to create a space between them.
And it can be something that teams do very naturally, because they’re just trying to cope. And it’s very seductive to be involved in those conversations as well. But as soon as you start to do it, then you endorse what they’re talking about. And it builds up the barriers between them as well. S
o we’re always saying to challenge them, your team members to actually step into the shoes of the other team, why are they doing what they’re doing, what’s motivating what’s, what are their priorities, are they the same priorities? Are they conflicting? What can you do? And there’s a whole range of other things, but always intervene when you see breakdowns and communications and misunderstandings as well. Great. So that takes us on to number five, definitely not last but not least, over to you, Dani, for that,
Dani Bacon 28:25
And number five is around managing performance. So managing remote teams is a real shift in management style. And as we said, it calls for a more sophisticated approach. You can’t see what people are doing. So in terms of what they’re doing, how they’re doing, how they’re feeling about stuff, you’re relying on inference, you’re trying to pick up signs, to work out what’s going on for somebody, and what’s really happening. I’ve managed remote teams for the last 10 years and been part of them for probably 15 or 20 years. And I think a big part of success, the successful teams is how well you know your individual team members.
You can’t possibly help to support people to be their best if you don’t know what’s going on for them. You don’t how they work, how they tick. So that’s the first thing.
And I think in a virtual environment, particularly when you’re new to it, there’s this real temptation to increase monitoring, to see what people are up to. I was reading again, I think this report came up yesterday, one in seven workers are reporting their monitoring by their employers increased over the pandemic period.
But successful teams are all about trusting people to deliver. So that’s basically what you’ve got to do. You’ve just got to find other ways of seeing what’s going on. So do make sure you have in regular check ins, but not micromanaging. Work out what the cadence is that that works best for you and your team members and the team as a whole.
And then when you’re thinking about how to assess or evaluate performance, even if it’s not in a kind of formal ratings way, consider including elements of how well the people are contributing to the effectiveness of the virtual team and make that part of what you discuss, and cover and involve the team in deciding what factors and things you should look at as part of how well your team and in Individuals are performing.
But I guess what we do know from the research is that any assessment of performance, however formal or informal, it’s how people perceive it, they need to feel is fair. And that’s super important as we know that virtual workers can be judged more harshly.
It’s also how workers react to those performance discussions. So, again, you haven’t got that informal opportunity after performance discussion to catch up with somebody later in the day in the corridor. So do make time to pick up and say, we had a discussion this morning, how’s that landed for you? Is there anything you want to talk about?
And then just a bit about bias. So bias in performance processes and performance discussions isn’t a new thing. But we know there’s a tendency for remote workers to be judged more harshly. And that’s a fairly natural human tendency. I think it goes back to what we were talking about earlier, that we’re programmed to make sense of situations when there are gaps in our knowledge. So if we’re not seeing what somebody’s doing day in, day out, we kind of fill in fill in the gaps with our own with our own stories.
So I think there’s a couple of things to be aware of that the research throws up about performance ratings. One study found that ratings of our own performance in a virtual setting, we tend to be a bit more optimistic and positive than perhaps reality would, would suggest. And that is probably because we’re getting less feedback to us about what’s really going on. So, we’re not getting the feedback we would do in a physical environment. So we’re making it up. It’s really important that we find a way to give people a flow of information about how they;re doing from a variety of sources to help them build that balanced picture. And also make to make time for the team to reflect on how the team is performing, and focus on how they’re going to learn and improve.
Garin Rouch 31:39
And I guess the other thing as well, is it about in terms of positive reinforcement, isn’t it? It’s because you are working remotely, and these kind of sort of quoting, this is sort of classic, Ken Blanchard, which is going back years and years now, isn’t it, but it’s actually catching your people in the in the act of doing the right thing, and giving that feedback, but you have to go and look for it. And because working remotely, it just won’t present itself with it. So it’s being really clear on the kind of good performance that you’re looking for. And then finding specific examples, and feeding back to them, but also feeding back to the team as well. So they can all see that’s exactly the kind of behaviours you’re trying to encourage.
Dani Bacon 32:16
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Garin Rouch 32:18
So that is our top five. So just a quick recap of the top five. So number one is setting expectations. Number two is quality of communication. Number three is defaulting to transparency. Number four is the leader as network broker. And number five is the importance of performance evaluation.
So I guess what we wanted to do is, there’s that kind of link again, between academic insight and management practice, and we’re trying to bridge that gap. So we’re just going to give you three things to take away. If you’re going to do anything, as a result of when you turn this video off, go back to your desk, the three things that you prioritize, what’s the first one for people to take away?
Dani Bacon 33:01
The first one is ask your team. Are they clear on your expectations of them? And have you asked them what they expect from you as their leader?
Garin Rouch 33:10
100%. And managers don’t ask that in normal times today, let alone so it’s so important.
And the second one is, what connections do you need to broker now? So look across the organization chart at what networks that you work in. Where do you need to focus your attention, if you’re going make sure one relationship works well, and you’re going to bring your resources to bear to enhance that relationship? What can actually you’re going to work on?
Dani Bacon 33:34
And then last of all our number three is, are you having effective and regular one to ones and check ins with your team members? Are you giving them the feedback and the information they need to do great work and improve? And have you taken a wider approach than just focusing on task? Are you looking more holistically at the support and wellbeing and development that they need?
Garin Rouch 33:52
Brilliant. So that’s the end of our first session, as we ‘ve got three more to go, we really welcome your feedback and comments. We’re going to be trying to share a number of the references that we’ve covered in order to produce this. We also really welcome your ideas about what would go in your top five. And also if you want to keep track of these as they come out. And if you’re watching on YouTube, just hit the subscribe button and tap the bell. And you’ll get a notification when the next one comes out as well. But I’m really, really glad that you stayed in to watch with this, and we look forward to the next one.
Optimising Team Performance – 19 January 2021
Garin Rouch 0:04
Welcome to the distinction podcast. This session is all about optimizing team performance.
Garin Rouch 0:21
So, this is one of four sessions that we’re running. This is specifically for leaders that are working with remote teams. So, session one, which is available on YouTube, is all about leaders and remote work and what we can specifically do. This session is looking at optimizing team performance. Session three is a dedicated session that purely focuses on decision making and session four is all about well-being. So, my name is Garin, I’m an organisation development consultant. And I do a lot of work with teams, both through coaching and consulting as well as observing hundreds of meetings over the years and doing reports on them, and pretty much seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of how teams can actually perform. So we’re going to share some research today. Do you want to introduce yourself?
Dani Bacon 1:12
My background is in organisation and people change. I spent six years as Director of people at Investors in People and now run my own consulting practice. So, I’ve led and worked as part of remote teams for the last 15 years, so I’ve got lots of practical experience in this arena.
Garin Rouch 1:25
Brilliant. Thank you. So, when we were deciding on the different subjects to look at teams immediately came to us as one of the most important areas because there’s so much research that has been done on leadership teams, and these sessions are all about bridging the gap between academic research, and management practice and making sure that as much quality research actually finds its way to support the day-to-day practices.
And with that research, there have been some quite incredible findings. So, for example, it finds that group efforts actually exceed individual performance more than, 85% of the time, because teams are just one of those natural things that organisations rely on to deliver task. There’s so much importance placed on it as well. The point of this session is to identify five specific actions that you can take away to apply to your work. And then, as we go through the research – and we’ve read a lot of research on it.
Dani Bacon 2:23
- hours and hours, days, probably, and probably not yet,
Garin Rouch 2:28
So we often start with some ideas about what we think the research will tell us. And then as we go through it, we start to uncover some of the myths around management practice and I think sometimes it’s important to find the specific actions to focus on. One of the reasons that we looked at optimizing teams is because there’s so much that can be done to optimize team performance. On the whole, only 15% of employees across organisations are engaged at any one time. And that’s quite an astounding number So, if you as a leader can actually help engage your employees that can have a huge impact on productivity can’t it Dani?
Dani Bacon 3:06
It can absolutely. If we had a machine that was only working at 15% capacity and productivity, you’d need to do something about it. But so often organisations know their teams are not performing anywhere near to their maximum capacity or effectiveness because they just let it drift and don’t try and it better.
Garin Rouch 3:22
So, the more engaged your employees are, the better the organisation performs. So engaged workplaces enjoy significantly better profitability, productivity, satisfaction, lower staff turnover, less absenteeism, and fewer accidents as well.
So let’s get into some of those myths now that we uncovered along the way.
So Myth number one is fresh blood improves performance. So, this is a very commonly held belief and I’m sure you’ve seen this as well, is that if a team stays together too long team members become too comfortable with each other, standards will go down. The team will be tolerant of each other’s mistakes, the team’s performance will plateau. What the research finds is that is not true, the only type of teams where that is actually fairly true is in research and development teams and they found that performance plateaued in R&D teams after three years. What they found is that stable teams, over time, just continue to perform and the best teams just keep getting better and better year on year because people can more interdependent. They start to rely on each other specialist knowledge and skill and experience as well. Dani, what are your findings?
Dani Bacon 4:34
Yes, I think there’s a temptation when you’ve got teams not working well that you change the members. You can change the people in your team but without really looking at the underlying reasons why the team is not working in the first place. So I think, unless you address the underlying issues that make teams in effective, you can swap the people in and out all the time but you’re not going to make a massive difference in effectiveness.
Garin Rouch 4:57
And also, it takes time for a team to ramp up performance doesn’t it? The research shows it takes from 2 weeks to three months to become a really cohesive unit. And at the moment there are lots of teams being bought together, project teams being disbanded, people are part of two, three, four or five teams even. And so what happens is that effort that goes into building that team is never truly leveraged, and that stability is key.
Dani Bacon 5:25
I think particularly environment now we’ve got people who have been furloughed and they’re coming back to work and they’re part of a team and then furloughed again so you’ve got that constant churn in team makeup at the moment because of the context, we’re operating in
Garin Rouch 5:37
Myth number two is, there’s no one size fits all approach, there is no secret sauce that is going to fix your team. Every team is different, its own workloads priorities, problems, levels of uncertainty, different organisational context. Teams are human systems, they’re not engineered mechanical systems you can’t just push lever A and lever C to get certain outcomes, it’s not quite like that.
Dani Bacon 6:10
It’s very seductive the idea that there might be one solution to this, that you read the right book and then your team will perform effectively but unfortunately, it’s not just like that you need to pick and choose the best bit from all that the best practice out there that’s going to work in your environment.
Garin Rouch 6:23
Yes. The keyword there is environment. You can’t motivate people, all you can do is create the environment around the person. So let’s take the best research here and just try and think about how you can develop that environment.
Myth number three. And this is particularly prevalent in organisations that are going through struggles at the moment where is the real focus, and that is the myth is, it’s not just about the numbers or the profit, actually, what creates employee motivation. There’s a big study in the Journal of Business Ethics recently, and this is backed up by five studies that showed that employee motivation is 17 to 33% higher when profit is not the primary concern. And that really emphasises the importance of teams and organisations having what Jay Richard Hackman would call a compelling purpose and Daniel Pink also reiterated. People need to be understanding what difference do I make in the world? And a really astonishing statistic by the University of Leiden basically found that 25% of employees doubt the usefulness of their work, so they go into work each day, wondering exactly what it is that they’re actually creating what value they’re creating as well. So, managers can play a big part in that can’t they,
Dani Bacon 7:36
They can. It’s really important that managers continue to reiterate what the purpose of the organisation is and they really help their teams and their individuals on the team to understand the contribution they’re making to that purpose. Never assume that it’s known and never assume once you tell somebody they will remember. They need continual reminding as everything changes and shifts around them. They just need reminding about the difference they’re making and why their work matters.
Garin Rouch 8:01
Number four is the Tuckman model. You may know it as the forming, storming, norming performing. And it’s something I get quoted to me a lot by managers – “we just need to get through this storming phase” – “and how long have you been in the storming phase now?” – “Well, two years”. It’s an interesting thing, and it was a really good bit of research, and it really creates a really good mental model for managers to think about. Recent research, Palmer Knight for example in 2007, found evidence that storming actually takes place for the entire lifetime of a team. It’s always just a fundamental part of being a team
Dani Bacon 8:39
It’s a reflection of the environment we operate in now that the world around us is changing so quickly, and teams are changing so quickly so every time you change a small variable in that way, the makeup of the team or the environment the teams operating, then you are back into that storming phase so you never get to a steady state because the world’s changing too fast.
Garin Rouch 8:59
And I think that’s a really important thing to think about as a manager should orientate yourself. It’s very fluid it’s very dynamic, and it’s almost like gardening. You can’t just stop gardening, you’ve got to keep tending to the soil, making sure the right seeds are in the right place, all those types of things. You’ve got to keep maintaining it as well having you can’t just leave it in, and hope that it will work well because you’ve done the hard bit already.
Dani Bacon 9:22
That’s a really nice analogy actually I like that analogy of a team in the garden.
Garin Rouch 9:26
I use it a lot. Sometimes when, obviously not in virtual world but I do train I actually take soil, seeds, a flowerpot, everything into the training room and I get people to actually, as managers grow plants, because there is such a close analogy to the two things as well. Okay, so that’s obviously just some myths, we’ve promised you that we’re going to give you five actions that you can implement to resolve today. So we’re going to take you through them each of those five areas. We’ve actually identified some key things to think about as well so Dani, do you want to kick us off with number one?
Dani Bacon 9:59
Yes, then kicking off the number one, the first action is about building team trust. So, one factor that comes up all the research is trust. By trust we mean that all members of the team grow to have shared expectations about the attitudes, behaviours, and actions will be other members of the team. And that as those predictions are met – or not – the team learns to what extent they can rely on each other. It’s worth saying that when researchers look at trust they talk about five dimensions of trust, the three that are really common and then another two that have come along slightly later than the first three. One is around trust in abilities, that’s our knowledge and belief in the abilities of others in the team. The second one’s benevolence so that’s about the amount of support, autonomy, emotional care we expect to receive from others. The third was integrity so that’s around confidentiality and ethical values, then the two new ones. There’s one around predictability, the extent to which people keep commitments that are made and are available, and are consistent. And then the final one is around transparency. So to what extent are people sharing information, being open and being clear on what their roles and responsibilities are, or tasks, they’re working on.
Garin Rouch 11:05
And I really like the fact that you can actually break, what is a really big word trust, down into individual units so you can really, as a manager, focus your efforts on which the particular type of trust that you want to work on. Absolutely.
Dani Bacon 11:17
So, the mindset matters. There’s several really high-quality studies that have shown that intra-team trust is a significant predictor of the effectiveness of team. And we know that trust plays an even greater role in the effectiveness of virtual teams compared to teams that are co-located. So, some research back in 2013 found that as team virtuality increases, and this probably isn’t massively unexpected team coordination declines and communication gets more difficult, but in teams where there are high levels of trust, then those problems around coordination and communication are offset to some degree by the fact there’s greater trust, so there’s a real value in building trust ass a manager to make your teams function more effectively.
What does high trust look like so trust in a team? It means that other team members can suspend the judgment about things going on, they’re not going to jump to conclusions. And they’re more willing to hold back and go okay let’s just be a bit curious about what’s going on here. So you’re preventing potential misunderstanding and conflicts. It will also be shown the teams that trust each other are much better able to tolerate uncertainty and much more willing to take risks, so they’re both important factors when we’re operating in an uncertain and ambiguous terrain that we find ourselves in more so than ever now.
And then when team members trust each other they more readily share information and emigration willingness to trust in each other’s knowledge. We saw in the last podcast that,t that willingness to share information and knowledge is so important, particularly in a virtual remote world. Then, how do you do it then? We know that trust is important so what do you do to make it happen? Well, in teams, and this alludes back to the myth. Trust develops over time as individuals learn more about each other. There are some things that are more important than others it’s not just a case of sitting back and hoping that three months in trust will be there.
So the first one’s around availability. The one factor around trust that takes on a much greater level of importance in vertical teams is availability. S, researchers found in virtual teams if you’ve got someone going habitually off grid, or they’re not available, then that erodes trust or it stops it building. And that can have a really significant impact on team performance regardless of how strong, all the other factors of team effectiveness are,
Garin Rouch 13:30
Which is, I guess that’s a perception issue, isn’t it? So, for example, working weird hours at the moment, particularly as we’re moving into lockdown three. So we’re not always available. So, if we don’t have a narrative around why we’re not available, then people will create their own narrative around it as well. Or if someone’s actually doing some deep work and they just go offline, no slack, no WhatsApp, no email for two hours to get a big piece of work done or to do some deep thinking that could actually potentially be perceived incorrectly and damage trust
Dani Bacon 14:04
Yes, it could and that’s why it’s really important that teams have norms or they establish norms and ways of working and agree how they’re going to operate with each other, how they’re going to use Slack, how they’re going to use their out of office how they’re going to communicate with each other about what they’re doing and when they’re available
So the second way of building trust is protecting the team from negative behaviour. So, believing that others have good intentions is a really important element of trust and in virtual teams particularly if just one team member engages in negative behaviour such as dishonest communication then team trust will decrease. So managers and HR practitioners need to tackle this early, they need to look out for dishonest communication and be really intentional about correcting it where they see it and make sure that team members know that’s not the way the team works and that’s not acceptable in the team
Garin Rouch 14:51
That can be tricky for managers can’t it? Because that’s a subjective call. It’s you being really clear about what is appropriate what’s not appropriate. Having a line, and also having some potentially difficult conversations with team members and they may not see if something wrong with what they’re doing. You have to go there to maintain the performance.
Dani Bacon 15:13
And I think as a manager, it’s about not being afraid of having those difficult conversations but also not going into them in a confrontational way. Just sharing your observations, what you are seeing going on, explaining how you are seeing the world and giving them a chance to share their view of the world.
Garin Rouch 15:32
In the last session, we’re not on commission, Gervase Bushe, has a really really nice model for that for Clear Leadership doesn’t he which is how you can share what you’re seeing observing and invite the other person’s perspective in, and to do it just so you can actually understand what’s actually going on.
And then the last point around trust is about being mindful about sharing negative feedback. So, a key element of trust in teams, believing that the members have got the abilities that they need to perform well, so although you need to share feedback so you’ve kind of given the team information on how they’re doing and where they need to improve and what they’re doing well. You just need to be really careful about how you do that. So, if you share negative feedback that say the team’s is terrible. You’re useless at doing this” That’s going to really diminish their belief in abilities and their own in their individual abilities and their ability to operate effectively as a team. So, when you’re providing that feedback, it’s really important to make it specific about a particular task or an event or a particular behaviour, there’s not going to undermine the team’s inherent ability to perform the task.
Garin Rouch 16:32
And then some of this is feedback 101 isn’t it, but it’s amazing how often when emotions or a play or in the back and forth conversation. It just comes out on doesn’t it? “you always…”.
And then that person interprets it or because you’re factually wrong, then it’s interpreted in the wrong way as well so it’s really about being very precise and really planning what you’re going to say so.
So that’s number one.
Number two is something that’s been around for quite a while but I think it’s really important in the in application of teams and that’s cognitive load.
So, cognitive load was kind of characterized in 1988 by psychologist John Sweller. And so what is it? Well basically cognitive load is, is the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory so some of you who’ve done a little bit of psychology for you probably come across this. So, we only have so much working memory can only hold on to so many items, and therefore when we’re working, the more of a cognitive load that we have, the more inefficient we become, the more overwhelmed we become, the less proactive we become, and therefore the less effective we become as well.
Garin Rouch 17:45
One of the ways in which we want to encourage you to think about it is to think about the team’s collective cognitive load. Teams have taken on a lot of responsibility, particularly in organisations where people have been furloughed. All of a sudden people’s jobs have doubled, tripled, quadrupled or have had to make some difficult decisions about what can’t be done. And so teams are overloaded, and therefore that’s really important to think about what is realistic in terms of what my team can do? And what can I do as a manager to lighten their cognitive load? Do they have too much responsibility? What things can I do ?
Without getting too much into the detail and we would definitely signpost you to the work that was done by Sweller and lots of things of other things like Mind Tools for example.
There’s basically three types of cognitive loads you’ve got intrinsic cognitive load, and basically this relates to the aspects of actually completing the task itself. So what actions do I need to do to complete this task? The second area is the extraneous cognitive load, and that relates basically to the environment in which the task is being done. So, that’s thinking, okay so who do I need to let know that I’m doing this piece of work? Or who do I need to hand this over to afterwards? And then the final cognitive load is germane cognitive load, and that relates to the aspects of the task that you’re doing that require special attention to create high performance. So these are the real value adds that you would do to a task. So if you’re doing the task multiple times at the germane cognitive load is when we are thinking about doing it so in future times when you do the task, it becomes quicker, faster and more efficient.
When we’re overloaded we can’t tend to those things equally. And what are the effects of heavy cognitive load for teams? Well, research shows that performance goes down. Teams become less effective with decision making and problem solving, they start to use it as a shorthand when they’re making decisions. And it also increases stress levels. And sometimes the manager can be the source of this cognitive load. So it’s really important to be thinking about as a manager is what can I do to ease it and what can I do to prevent it?
So, how do you measure the team’s cognitive load at any one time? Well, there is one method, and that’s where you actually look at the dilation of your team members pupils. That’s probably not appropriate.
Another probably more simple way of doing it is actually to ask the team in a non-judgmental way. Do you feel like you’re effective and able to respond in a timely fashion to the work you asked to do?
It’s not the most accurate measure but the answer will gauge whether your team’s feeling overloaded. And then, if the answer from all your team is overwhelmingly or clearly negative, then you can start to apply some heuristics or just some simple methods to try and understand if and why the cognitive load is too high and then start to actually do some things to actually reduce that cognitive load.
And so when we’re thinking about this what can we do? Well, the things that we can do are really thinking about how we can eliminate some of the responsibilities that the team has. How can we potentially provide technical training that they may not have on systems, for example, they’re only using excel at an intermediate level. What happens if you actually give them advanced level? would that make them more efficient?
Another thing as well that’s kind of comes from the software world which I think is quite a good model to think about here is lots of teams do things very quickly at the moment. And in order to do things really quickly. They’re taking shortcuts, which are creating workarounds where it’s really the better way of doing things, and a more sustainable way of doing things is actually something that will take longer. So what that’s doing is building technical debt in the system. And so when we’re doing tasks required lots of working memory to require, how to do certain things, where certain things are kept. And that puts more and more pressure on the team’s working memory.
So, other things that you can do as well is to actually map out the processes of your team or individuals on a platform like Miro or mural on whiteboards and look for opportunities to automate. I know there’s a lot of bad press about things like AI and automation but automation in this age is your friend. Anything you can do to actually automate tasks or make them more efficient, or just to get rid of them is going to be more effective in the long term.
And also thinking about word I need to hire me more resource or just to reorganize the responsibilities of the team. I’d probably say another thing to be really mindful of is, when you’re with your senior managers and you’re being asked to do particular jobs or take on certain responsibilities… Sometimes we don’t want to look bad to our senior leaders, that we’re not capable, that we can’t do it. But if we say yes to things our teams don’t have capacity for then what happens is they pay the price for this, they become overwhelmed. And this this often comes out when you actually sit down with team members in terms of how many things that they’re doing and what’s realistic and what’s possible.
Things that you can do are things like the Eisenhower matrix where we start to map out. It looks like we’re doing everything in that urgent – important area. Now what are we doing that could be more in the important not urgent area that could actually help us start to create better systems. And just looking actually streamlining processes as well. Any thoughts from you Dani on this one?
Dani Bacon 23:01
Yes, I think if you can get someone from outside the team to come in and help you with that review of your processes it can be really helpful to have an external pair of eyes. Somebody is not really embedded in the way you work and you can ask those questions as a critical friend. So why do you do that? And often you’ll uncover – Well, it’s just the way we’ve always done it.
Garin Rouch 23.20
So it’s those famous words “we’ve always done that” It’s tradition, isn’t it? Even if it is really horribly inefficient as well.
Dani Bacon 23:26
Yes, and I think on the automation front, bringing an expert – just for a short amount of time because sometimes you don’t know what is possible to automate until you bring in somebody who says “You do realize you can do that in 10 seconds rather than 30 minutes is taking you to do that”. So don’t be afraid to bring in expertise, just to open your eyes about what’s possible from an automation perspective.
It’s that balance that when we work with engineering companies they’re always thinking about the battle between production and maintenance. And when you’re running machinery, you don’t run machinery 100% you run it 90 or 80%, and you put the maintenance time in there to make it more efficient in the long term you’ve upgraded so we don’t really do that with human systems do at the moment.
No, We’re very bad at doing that.
Garin Rouch 24:12
Okay, so that’s number two cognitive load. And number three, what’s, what’s that for you to me.
Dani Bacon 224:17
Number three is all around team social cohesion. So, social cohesion emerges in teams where members like to work together they form emotional bonds of friendship and there’s caring and closeness around among group members, and this social cohesion just helps teams be more effective.
We know that from the research that socially cohesive teams tend to have greater psychological safety, which helps team members feel more free to speak up and ask for help, propose ideas and solutions without that fear of negative consequences. And socially cohesive teams are much more likely to cooperate and interact with each other. So they’re more likely to exchange ideas and share information. And just like trust, we know that social cohesion pays an even greater role in the effectiveness of virtual teams compared to teams were co-located.
The challenge is it’s just much harder to foster social cohesion in a virtual world than it is when you’re all face to face. There was some research from June 2020, that found that there are four factors that correlate with employee perceptions of their productivity on collaborative tasks while working from home. And they found that one of them was social connectivity so employees who were satisfied with the social connections in their teams were twice as likely to maintain productivity on collaborative tasks whilst working remotely. So, social cohesion is not a sort of fluffy thing there’s a direct correlation to individual and team productivity so put the effort into social cohesion and you create a more effective productive team.
Garin Rouch 25:44
That’s often what you’ll hear managers say, Oh, this is just HR fluffy stuff isn’t it, this is this has got a really hard edge. And when you look at the research and you look at the rapid evidence assessment. This is like double A level quality research in terms of leading to productivity and positive outcomes for the organisation.
Dani Bacon 26:01
Absolutely. So, how do we do it how can we foster social cohesion? So the first one is about creating time and space for informal interaction between your team members so they are not always just communicating about task. So there’s a lot of great research into nurses who work online and work remotely. And they found that using the theatre analogy that when they’re on stage, talking to patients, they’re doing their job. It is really important for them to have a kind of backstage environment where they can talk to each other. Away from managers, away from their patients. And that gives them the space to relax, it gives them the space to get to know each other, but it also gives them a space to informally analyse what they’re up to and how they’re working and discuss ways of improving performance. So that’s one thing you can do as a manager is to make sure whatever tools or platforms you’re using if there’s that kind of informal interaction space. And that as a manager you’re not there, you’re not on that space. So, the team can work together in a kind of informal way without worrying that the managers kind of looking over their shoulders and judging what they’re talking about,
Garin Rouch 27:09
It’s this thing about sort of forced fun isn’t there. It’s about taking a carefully curated approach to really ensuring that social relationships develop is there?
Dani Bacon 27:18
So yes, I like that. One of the things you can do to foster social collaboration is where you make time for socializing, don’t leave it to chance, don’t leave it to your team members to solve their own social activity outside of work. See it as a core part of your day to day functioning, so create intentional opportunities for socializing, but also be aware of individual styles. So not everyone’s going to love with karaoke using session or, murder mystery event, but you can be really creative and find different ways of creating opportunities for social interaction. Be it social events, be it creating communities of practice or book clubs or giving people a chance to connect over those sorts of things.
One thing I’ve seen being really effective and working in several organisations is informal coffee pair-ups. So you randomly pair up people across the organisation once a fortnight have a 15-minute zoom, coffee, and that gives people a chance to have a conversation with somebody that they won’t necessarily come across in their day to day work but they just get to know each other and they build up links, a building social cohesion occasion.
And then you can have things like check-ins at the start of meeting so if you make the beginning of every meeting you have just a space for people to check-in and say what’s going on with them, that just gives people a chance to get to know each other a little bit more, to start to understand a bit about what’s going on in each other’s worlds. So they’ll know if they’ve got three children running around the house, trying to be home schooled. Those sorts of things just help people get to know each other and really understand each other’s lives.
And then the last thing you can do to foster social cohesion is around teamwork training. So this has been shown to have really positive effect on virtual teams. So that’s training teams on how to work together. So not just training them to complete a task. It’s about helping them understand the importance of providing social support within a team, or giving them tools to manage conflict amongst teammates, and other things that make teams more effective.
Garin Rouch 29:07
There is a difference between team building and team working strategies. I think it’s important to the difference between the two isn’t it?
Dani Bacon 29:12
Yes, absolutely, and both have got that place. Soo I’ve seen some really effective traditional team-building events that aren’t work-related particularly. When there’s a higher purpose of some kind. I’ve seen some be really effective where team buildings have been built around a charity event so the teams are working together on something that we’re going to deliver to charities. So one I was involved in was building bikes for a charity that would then be donated to young people who needed them to get to college or to help with their caring responsibilities and focusing the team around something that’s got a higher purpose, really helped people put aside their work functions and roles and just get to know each other.
Garin Rouch 29:54
It takes the politics out of it doesn’t it? It sets a higher context. It not consequential so you can engage with people, and you see a different side to that person but it requires a lot thought doesn’t it?
Dani Bacon 30:04
Yes, and you see people step outside of their traditional roles and people who aren’t a manager or leader stepping up and taking charge which is great.
Garin Rouch 30:05
And again, it’s so important, it really does require put some time and investment into it as well.
There’s a lot of stories that are coming out from the Christmas quizzes that have been happening. “Well we had 40 people on the call, only 10 people really spoke” Do people really want to engage with each other to have drinks online? Not everyone drinks, how do you facilitate those, those kind of social interactions to really bring that organisation together as well. So that’s number three.
Number four is virtual team meetings. So, Dani and I have, and I’m sure you have as well, been in certainly more than your fair share of meetings. One of the things that is a part of my role is I observe lots of meetings and give people feedback on how they go. I would probably say if organisations in this country could actually really optimize the way in which team meetings work this would have a substantial impact on the GDP of this country as a whole. What they could achieve versus what they do achieve is quite a big gulf. So what we’re going to do is we’re just going give you some really clear specifics here. We’re thinking about the model of 60 – 30 -10. So when we think about this. So 60% of your effort should be going into the design of your team and the meetings that it has – how you actually design the task that it does, how you design what it makes decisions on and how it does those decisions as well. 30% should be about the actual launch of the team and how you actually set it up to do really well in these meetings and 10% of your effort should be going to ongoing coaching, to ensure that the team continues to improve and perform better as a team as it moves forward. So here we go, we got five for you. So the first one we want to think about is when you bring the team together is to really think to yourself, is what it does, consequential, challenging and clear?
Garin Rouch 32:09
Okay, so it’s the three C’s. So they sound really good but what do they actually means. So consequential – so when this team meets, is it going to have an impact on the team? is it what you guys are actually going to discuss is it going to have a big impact on the performance of the team? The second thing is challenging. Is the content of what you talk about, is it intellectually challenging, or, does it require the experience and know-how and knowledge of the people around the table, and therefore requires the collective IQ of this team to actually engage with this as an issue. And then finally, is it clear/ Is it just crystal clear what goes into this meeting, or what shouldn’t go into this meeting? That requires you to take a bit of a step back and think about the overall governance structure of your team -so what goes into 1-21s? what goes into project meetings? what goes into the virtual team meeting? what needs to be escalated because we don’t have enough authority? So it’s all really clear what goes into each meeting. And then people can come into these meetings thinking something big is going to happen today, I need to pay attention. I’m not going to kill time. And I’m not going to sit here and WhatsApp my colleague while we’re in this meeting, saying how bad this meeting is. I really have to pay attention.
So the second thing is a reflection of the fact that it’s virtual, and therefore we really need to think about the process. Virtual meetings are more tiring than face-to-face meetings, and face-to-face meetings can be like endurance events. So virtual meetings by their very nature need to be shorter, and therefore more frequent.
You need to have clear agendas and papers ahead of time for people to read and feel prepared, particularly in a virtual world. And be very specific in terms of what you want the for people to do in preparation. Is that item on the agenda for a decision? Do you want me to make a decision based on this therefore I need some supplementary information on Monday to come with questions? Or you’re just consulting with me to get my insight then you will you make decisions. Therefore, you don’t miss manage my expectations. Or is it for information, we’re going to share some corporate messaging or whatever it is.
A meeting shouldn’t really be for information only because that’s really boring. And there are other methods of actually sharing that information. We can be far more creative about it as well. The meeting should not be an inbox exercise where I as the manager speak to all of my direct reports individually. It should be things that actually require the team’s thinking. And if it really is like that then you have to wonder, is it a real team? Does it actually have a purpose? Are you an artificial team? And actually might need to think about dividing the team up a little bit?
And also, you need to have an annual plan of what meetings should be held and when. When’s our planning cycle? When do we do our quarterly reviews? All those kind of things. So we’ve got some real cadence into the meetings so there’s a real kind of momentum as well.
And we also need to keep a record of the meeting. What do we discuss? What actions do we take? Who’s accountable? Who’s responsible? Use a RACI, whatever you want to do, just to keep everyone involved and up to speed.,
But also it means we’re making progress. Life of work feels quite relentless at the moment. If we never feel as if we make progress because we don’t measure it, then the work feels relentless and that helps you become motivated as well.
Dani Bacon 35:36
And I think it’s Chair of the meeting is it’s your responsibility to hold people accountable for delivering on the actions that they agree in a meeting. There’s nothing worse than agreeing a load of actions and then nobody does them the week after. And then you let that drift and then you end up in a really ineffective cycle where you’re agreeing actions but nobody really believes that you have to do them so they just get left, and that creates frustration and it’s ineffective, you don’t get anywhere
Garin Rouch 35:57
And it erodes over time. And then people’s engagement goes down, and then you just get what you get.
And then a good foundation that is number three which is setting team norms. Ruth Wageman and J Richard Hackman did a lot of research at Harvard on the performance of teams, and they found that teams actually had a really clear norms of conduct – that was one of the greatest predictors of team effectiveness.
There’s all sorts of bad habits that are just creeping their way in at the moment. People are distracted, they multitask. They don’t look at their screen when they look away, all kinds of things. And that really creates some bad habits. Also it’s about how people need to be engaged with each other, how they need to be feeding back, what they need to be involved in, , do they talk about topics outside of their own domain of expertise? all those kind of things really good to have nice and clear upfront.
And also think about how you want people to be feeling and thinking that the end of the meeting. We don’t think enough about that. As a manager this is one of your primary platforms to inspire engage and motivate your team for the rest of the week and to focus them, yet your meetings often kind of fizzle out. Okay, so that’s that. Okay.
You want you guys to go back to the workspaces, to their busy homes or wherever they’re working, and you want them to be inspired and focused and part of a team So think about how you structure it as well.
And also, make use of technology. You may have some shy members of the team, use technology just to nudge people in private as you know you’ve primed them to say something in this meeting. It’s a really good practice to do.
Number four is basically using good facilitation techniques to encourage engagement. And, often teams are too big, the optimal number, I think, is about 4.6 for Team size. Teams often quite a lot bigger than that – people get lost, or people come to the meeting and they haven’t had a chance to develop a point of view about the agenda or it’s outside of their expertise. So you can use some really good facilitation techniques to actually get people to develop their thinking in the room, to build social connections with other people are actually then to articulate it and socialise it, critique each other’s ideas, and you can use lots of things on Zoom which is like breakout rooms.
I’m a big advocate of Liberating Structures. A really good body of work. That’s kind of brought together lots of really good activities and activities as simple as 1-2-4-All are a great thing if you’re going to make a decision. So the way it would work is one is each person individually thinks about the question that you’re asking them or the decision to be made. Then once they’ve done that they then go into pairs, and they share what they’ve been thinking with their colleague, and their colleague asks questions and develops their thinking. And then you start to bring them back into bigger groups. And what that does is that when you do actually have a group discussion, everyone has an opinion. Everybody feels more comfortable sharing it. And it’s so much richer, rather than it really being led by the manager.
And often you’ll see when things are out kilter because often when I’m doing observations. I’ll take a time segment the meeting and make a mark of how many contributions are made by people. And often 50 to 60% of the time, the person is talking is the chair. And that means that you’re not utilizing the team and you’re not using the collective IQ of the team as well.
And then the last one. And this is top level A, quality research, and that’s the importance of, doing debriefing sessions and lessons learned sessions. That’s where as a team, you take a step back and you review a decision that’s been made, and you take the learning out of it. Rather than just constantly careering into new actions to be taken, we’re thinking about what needs to be done for us to improve.
And it needs to be done in a certain way it’s not finger-pointing and being judgmental. It’s what are the lessons, what can we do. And one of the things I often encourage teams to do is, at the end of a meeting, is spent five to 10 minutes just reviewing how was the meeting for them. What worked well? What didn’t work so well? What can we do next time? And that can have quite a big impact on the performance of the team overall can’t it Dani?
Dani Bacon 40:12
It can be really transformative in the way that the team works and learns from how it’s working. But I would say, be aware, the few times you do it, it will be uncomfortable.
Garin Rouch 40:20
Oh, it’s clunky. It’s horribly clunky.
Dani Bacon 40:24
But it’s worth persevering. As the manager or the chair of that meeting, you have to make sure that you don’t let yourself and the team off the hook after one meeting because it felt awkward and uncomfortable, so you never go there again. Keep pushing and making it kind of formal part of your agenda and you’ll find once you’ve done it 2, 3, 4 times it becomes a much more natural part of the meeting and people be ready for it and they’ll be much more willing to share and contribute their thoughts,
Garin Rouch 40:48
And they’ll share things like, “on that particular point I don’t really feel as if I shared my opinion as much as I could have,” and then you say “well what did you want to share?” and they say “well this piece of information”. All of a sudden the quality of your solutions just double down because you really are leveraging that collective IQ, and that’s what teams are all about.
Dani Bacon 41:08
And you don’t leave the meeting with people with stuff they haven’t said and then they’re not really bought into what’s, what’s been decided because they didn’t say what they thought.
Garin Rouch 41:18
So that’s for that virtual teams, Dani, what’s our number five, please?
Dani Bacon 41:22
So last but not least is all about developing conflict resolution capability,
Garin Rouch 41:24
So we’re going there with conflict? Okay.
Dani Bacon 41:29
So some level of conflict is necessary for the successful functioning of teams, especially around tasks. It’s really good to have different perspectives on how to deal with problem or make the most of an opportunity. But when you get relationship conflict around, interpersonal issues or process conflicts or disagreements about how you’re going to delegate resources, both of those things can be detrimental to team effectiveness.
So, why does it matter? So the research shows that there’s actually little difference in the sorts of conflict that virtual teams experience compared to co-located teams. Conflict around the task – what’s the right thing to do or relationship conflicts are not more likely or less likely to happen in a virtual team versus a co-located team. But you’ve probably got greater likelihood of process conflict in a virtual team. Probably because it’s just more complicated to work remotely and virtually so you’re more likely to run into problems.
So whilst interpersonal conflicts and task conflicts aren’t necessarily more likely in virtual teams there are some specific things about how conflict shows up in virtual teams that are worth being aware of if you’re managing a virtual team.
So the first one is that conflict maybe hidden longer in virtual teams. So, people aren’t raising questions quite so early or putting their challenges out there quite early when you can solve them. And when relationship conflict does arise in a virtual team it is much more likely to be negative for team performance. And in fact, affects team satisfaction to even greater extent as virtuality increase. Conflicts are more likely to escalate more quickly in a virtual setting as well. So there’s a risk that individuals take disagreements, or are more likely to take disagreements personally because they can’t see the context or the nuance or the facial expressions of the other party, they’re more likely to create negative attributes about the other person. And then if you take something personally, you’re more likely to respond in a more emotional or aggressive way and that, that just makes things escalate, more likely.
Garin Rouch 43:24
Yes, it’s interesting as well because I think people have got a lot of stresses on them at the moment, haven’t they, and you can’t always guarantee what place that person is going to be in when they receive your message for example. So it may well be the your email or whatever you say is totally innocuous but you’re the 14th person, or theie child has kept awake all night and it’s just yours as the trigger. Because you’ve not set up the context, or not done some natural kind of greeting on it, “how are you? “ you just get straight to task. That’s the thing that sets off.
Dani Bacon 43:56
Absolutely, there’s a really interesting research about the problems caused by electronic communication, and they are all linked to the fact that the message gets separated from the context, separate from the person sending it, separated from their body language. So a study in 2016 found that people tend to interpret emails as more negative that the sender intended and they were also more overconfident in their ability to understand what others meant by the emails they’ve sent you.
And then, 2019 study found similar results so our capacity to interpret the emotional content of an email or a chat platform message is really low. And by email people tend to interpret positive emotions as more neutral and neutral emotions are more negative.
And there’s more research in 2015 that found that over 1/3 of employees receive at least one email a day, they would class as impolite or rude. So, that’s a lot of emails flying around that have got the potential to upset people. All that said, we know we have to find more effective ways to manage conflict in our teams if we want effective and happy teams and people.
So what can we do? So the first piece of advice is deal with it and to spot it. So, we know, even if we don’t always want to admit it that the least successful technique within the conflict is avoiding it. Pretending it’s not there, ignoring it, unfortunately, won’t help. It’s not going to go away.
Garin Rouch 45:21
Or it will present itself in surprising ways. Won’t it? So this particular issue may not be the catalyst but there’ll be like something down the line when because it’s not been dealt with here, it will come up with something else won’t it?
Dani Bacon 45:34
Absolutely. There’s very few problems that get better by ignoring them. Yes, and the first thing is deal with it, as a manager. Be on the lookout for it. You have to identify conflict, before can start to address it so it’s about prepping ourselves to be a bit more vigilant, and trying to spot signs of conflict early and intervene when we can.
Garin Rouch 45:57
So conflict has got such a negative connotation around it but it’s actually, it’s really healthy, isn’t it? I think Patrick Lencioni puts it really well when he talks about productive conflict.
Teams have different people with different professional background, different professional lenses, you will have differences of opinion. As teams we have to come together and stay with those differences and work our way through it to come to the best quality solutions but, often, teams sit at the other end which is artificial harmony which is, even if we see something that upsets us we’ll just try and keep this veneer of niceness going, or we’ll have destructive conflict, the teams can actually stay in the middle, but quite often quite rare, aren’t they?
Dani Bacon 46:38
Yes, they are but there’s things you can do. There’s techniques you can draw on. So one that a lot of people have heard of is DeBono’s 6 hats. It just encourages team members to put aside their functional role or their own personal views on a problem and look at the problem from a different perspective. And techniques like that can really take the heat out of the problem.
Garin Rouch 47:01
It’s a classic isn’t it? It’s an old-time management classic and it works, doesn’t it? Because it makes people more rounded because it helps invites them to look at it from the devil’s advocate perspective, or it will work perspective? We may not have been in that role before.
Dani Bacon 47:09
So, there’s other things you can do but I think if your team is struggling to have a healthy productive discussion about something, then find a tool like that just to give them a different way of engaging with a discussion.
The second thing around, conflict is, defining from rules of engagement upfront. So, it’s inevitable, you’re going to run into some sort of conflict in the team so have a conversation with your team before you run into those problems about how you’re going to deal with conflict when it arises. Put some protocols in place about how you’re going to handle those discussions. So do you use a particular technique. Get them to commit if they sense a conversation is going to be difficult or an online email discussion starts to go off track or starts to get bogged down, then agree you’re going to move it to a video conversation or a phone conversation where you can bring more nuance to the conversation. Or you might you want to agree that when things get difficult you’re going to take a timeout and allow people to go away and calm down, but you must also agree to come back to it, It’s not an excuse, just to take time out and we’ll never mention this again. As it will pop up at some point.
And then thirdly, there’s an element of upskillingf and training your team how to deal with conflict. especially, when we look at virtual settings. It’s about recognizing that skill in face to face communication and conflict management doesn’t necessarily map onto skill in virtual communication and managing conflict. So just because you’re great at defusing stuff or having the difficult conversations face to face, it can feel really different when you’re in a virtual environment.
So it’s about opening ourselves up to the possibility that we’re misunderstanding someone’s meaning when we read their email, It’s about, understanding that we might be communicating unintentional emotions when we’re sending our own emails. And it’s one of the techniques is stating your interpretation of somebody else’s message. Don’t make assumptions, don’t leap to conclusion. Just explain what you think you understood from their message and give them a chance to explain what they meant and you might diffuse some stuff before conflict even arises. Sharing your mental models with each other and really over-explaining your thinking in a way that you might not be used to.
Garin Rouch 49:28
It’s a skill isn’t it? And it just takes practice and level of comfort with it. It’s part and parcel of a good healthy functioning team is it?
Dani Bacon 49:42
And then there’s been several studies showing that emotional regulation training – so short sessions teaching people how to identify and be aware and manage their emotions can really impact the likelihood of conflict and how well it’s handled when it does arrive.
Garin Rouch 49:49
Yes, people can be very, don’t necessarily feel able to articulate the emotions that they’re feeling at any one time. So if someone’s carrying the general mood of frustration from something else they made not be able to differentiate that this particular task area is not the source of the frustration, this is the source, but people sometimes have to work on unpicking that don’t they?,
Dani Bacon 50:18
Absolutely. And then the last point for handling conflict brings it full circle back to the first point which is if you can build trust and create psychologically safe teams, you’re much less likely to have issues with conflict. If you’ve got a team where there is trust it comes with other opportunities. You’ll be able to notice conflict, because you the people and how they normally work and function. You’re more likely to be willing to address the issue or conflict early, you more willing to be open and feel comfortable speaking up about difficult issues, and when conflict does occur, it’s much, much easier to resolve because if there’s trust in the team, you won’t automatically assume that the conflict is about a kind of relationship issue, you’ll see it for what it is it is just a disagreement over a task, rather than kind of blowing it up into something around, that person doesn’t like me or I can’t work with that person, you see is just a narrow kind of task issue you need to have a conversation about.
Garin Rouch 50:55
There’s so much good research that you are sharing there isn’t there? So we’re going to share with you the references, some signposts there to help you take your reading a little bit deeper as well.
Okay, so let’s just summarise the key points from today. So number one, Dani? Trust. Number two was cognitive load. Number three social cohesion. Four was virtual teams. And number five was developing, conflict resolution capability
Garin Rouch 51:30
Right so we’ve given you a whole load of content today for you to think about and you might want to re-watch this a couple times to get all the value from it. But what we want to leave you with is three specific actions from today, that you can take away and apply immediately. So what’s the first one for you Dani?
Dani Bacon 51:43
So the first one is go and look at, kind of what opportunities you’ve created for informal social interaction in your team, are opportunities there? and are they inclusive? Do they play to the different personality types?
Garin Rouch 51:54
Number two is look at your team meetings and what it does is? Is it consequential? Is it challenging? is it clear? Does it fully leverage the collective IQ of your team?
Dani Bacon 52:04
And then number three is mine for conflict. So there will be conflict bubbling away in your team. So, be proactive and look for it and try and surface it and address the issues before they may get more complicated and more difficult to unpick.
Garin Rouch 52:21
Brilliant that’s the end of our session. So that’s optimizing team performance for leaders with remote teams.
We’d love to hear your feedback. If there’s any specific areas that you would like us to do a longer session on we’d love to hear that as well. The next session is looking at decision making. What we ask of you is if you’re watching this on YouTube and we really appreciative it if you can just give it a like and if you’d like to follow more videos that come from us, which should be out really shortly. Just hit the subscribe button and if you click the bell that basically what happens you’ll get a notification, and when the next video is out as well but a huge thanks for watching with us today and we look forward to the next one and thank you.
Dani Bacon 52:56
Thanks for joining us.
4 Steps to Effective Decision-making – 2 March 2021
Dani Bacon: This podcast is all about bridging the gap between academic research and practice. It was about finding ways to bring intellectual high quality academic research into everyday practices as they come.
We’ve done two sessions in the podcast so far. In the first session, we looked at leadership and remote teams. In the second session, we looked at optimizing team performance. Today is all about decision-making. We’ve also got sessions in the pipeline on wellbeing strategy, and they’re all available on YouTube, and very soon, they’ll be available on your favorite podcast app. So keep an eye on that coming soon.
My name is Dani. My background is in organization and people change. I spent six years as Director of Investors and People. And then I run my consultancy practice. So I’ve always been fascinated by watching how decision-making unfolds in organizations. It’s such an important part of what makes organizations tick and how they get things done.
But it’s really rare to find leaders and teams that have given much thought about how they go about making decisions. Garin, do you want to Introduce yourself?
Garin Rouch: Hi, I’m Garin. I’m an organization development consultant and I work with executives, boards, and teams on governance and decision management, which basically means ensuring that organizations are making the right decision at the right time, by the right people, with the right authority, using the right process.
I’m completely in agreement with Dani as well. There’s something that organizations could do much better if they spent some time and invested some thought and investment at all levels with that as well. And an organization’s success is definitely the sum of all the decisions made within an organization.
Dani Bacon: Absolutely. Thanks, Garin. Aside from personal interest why did we choose to look at decision-making. Well, one paper we read when we were looking through the research for these described organizations as decision factories. So in our non-work life, the number of decisions we have to make has just exploded. 40 years ago, it’s estimated the average supermarket had 9,000 different products for us to choose from. 20 years ago that had increased to 30,000. And these days, the majority of us are faced with the choice of millions of different products every day.
In organizations, it’s estimated that in the last 20 years the average manager has experienced more than a 30-fold increase in the number of decisions they’re having to make. And I suspect, given the turbulence of particularly the last 12 months, that will have grown exponentially again.
For most of those day-to-day choices, the risks are small. But when you scale up to decisions being made on a corporate scale, the implications can be really enormous. Also, some recent research by CIPD found that employee satisfaction with their involvement in decision-making in their businesses is significantly and positively related to their overall job satisfaction. So there’s a real human reason to involve people in decision-making, but only 50% of employers are currently satisfied with the amount of involvement they’ve got in decision-making.
Decision-making is really complex and it draws on many different fields of research. In essence, though, to improve our decision-making, we must work on the process we use to make decisions and also be aware of the psychological factors that are at play as we make decisions.
So the point of today’s session is to take you through our model of decision-making, highlight some of the factors you need to be aware of and give you some tools you can use in your own work that really help to supercharge decision-making in your organization. As we go through the research, we always turn up myths about the topics we’re looking at, and decision-making is no different. So, we’ve got three for you.
First, is that decision-making is an intellectual, objective, rational exercise. We might be tempted to think that’s true, but it’s just not. Actually, social, emotional, and political factors all play a huge part in the decision-making process in an organization. It’s estimated that subjective opinions impact over 95% of all decisions that we make, and emotions are those responsible for the decision-making errors that occur.
There are 185 different non cognitive decision-making biases that can impact us when we’re making decisions. We’ll take you through some of those today. Not all 185, but we will give you some of the key ones. And even things like the amount of sleep that we get or the time of day we make decisions can have an impact. So anything that suppresses the levels of serotonin, for example, can make us less risk-averse. So if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, that can really impact how we make decisions.
Garin Rouch: One of those interesting bits of information is that the most active decision-making forums happen in the morning, and teams that actually meet in the later afternoon are more likely to defer major decisions because they feel tired and their serotonin levels have gone down.
Dani Bacon: Our second myth was that we turn to experts to help us make decisions. That would feel logically intuitively correct, but actually, it’s not true at all. There’s some recent research done that said only 32% of leaders turn to experts when they’ve got decision making. The vast majority prefer to turn elsewhere when they get stuck.
About 41% of leaders said they will turn to immediate colleagues and friends. Another 41% said they would use family or relatives to help them. Worth bearing that in mind if you’re in a decision-making situation in an organization that your leader probably isn’t talking to experts. It might be his friend; his next-door neighbour.
Garin Rouch: Yes and I think we’ve all been there before when senior leaders go home at night having spoken to the team and they are in X position. And they come back the next day having spoken to their partner. And often, their partner often becomes their counsel. Sometimes it’s good counsel, but they don’t really have the context and the information they’re getting is sometimes quite biased from the manager that’s sharing it with them as well.
And that’s something that teams really need to be aware of. For those people that are involved in family firms, it can be frustrating for teams because whether the meeting should be decided; it’s not necessarily happening there and things are presented as a fait accompli.
Dani Bacon: Then our third and final myth was that senior managers are best placed to make decisions. Actually, the research has shown that involving middle managers and especially those managers are what they call boundary spanners where they’ve got close links with suppliers, with customers, or their spending teams.
If you involve those middle managers, then you end up with superior decisions and strategies. And that’s because they’ve got access to more relevant external information, because they’re close to the people the decisions are affecting, and they’re much more likely to know whether the actions and the decision you’re proposing are actually operationally possible given the resources and context that the organization is facing. So they were our myths.
Now it’s about to get into the details. So we’re taking a slightly different approach this time. The last two podcasts, we gave you a top five. But today, we’re going to run you through four phases of our decision-making model. Garin is going to take us through the first phase. Over to you.
Garin Rouch: Great. Thanks so much, Dani. Just to set the context for this; this is our third podcast that we’ve done now. And, Dani, you will agree with this; that decision-making, of all the areas that we’ve researched, has required us to reach the most amount of research because it’s difficult to find definitive answers. A lot of decision-making research is based on case studies. And, therefore, with case studies, it’s based on the context.
What can happen is that good decisions can create bad outcomes, and bad decisions can create good outcomes. And really, it’s making sure that we understand the context first before we start to apply our decision-making methodology. And this is what we wanted to do today; to give you a decision-making framework. Not a method; a framework for you to actually approach decisions.
So we’ve got a four-part approach, so it’s really simple. The first phase is the what and the why of making the decision. What are we going to decide? Why are we going to decide it? The next bit is the who. So, who is actually involved in decision-making? And that means examining ourselves; our personal approach to decision-making, groups, and considerations around that as well.
Then we’re going to give you some really specific techniques that will help you look at things like applications and whatnot options. And then finally, the often forgotten part of decisions which is the what next. So we’ve produced this amazingly high-quality decision; how do we ensure that it’s accepted by the people around us and they actually help execute the decision as well?
So let’s get into that first one. So, the first thing we would always say is categorize the decision that you have to make. Not all decisions are equal. Some decisions are very straightforward; you can almost set decision-making rules around it and automate it almost if there’s that system. Others are much more complex where we don’t actually know what’s going to happen until we actually make the decision because there are all these variables involved.
So, what we recommend often for something like this is something called the “Cynefin Framework”. It’s developed by a thinker called David Snowden. He basically came up with a sense-making framework, and it helps us understand the different problems and decisions that we face.
Often, what happens is most people decide how they’re going to act, and then justify the action. What this does is it encourages you to actually sense what’s going on, map the territory, and then decide how you’re going to decide around it as well. And I’m not going into too much detail, but it just to give you a high-level view of it.
You can look at his framework in two halves. The right side is looking at where things are ordered and cause and effect predictability. If I decide this, then this will most likely happen. And so what we can do is we can actually start to take a much more straightforward approach to things.
The bottom right corner is about obvious. So this is where we kind of know exactly what’s going to happen. We sense what’s happening, we categorize the decision to be made, and we then respond. And we can apply best practice. There is one best way of doing it, and that’s where we can set decision rules and automate.
The second one on the right-hand side is complicated. We sense it’s going to take more analysis to get to the bottom of it and often we’ll use subject matter experts. But with that analysis, we’re then able to identify our response and we can apply good practice. There’s a number of ways of doing it, but we’ve made sure that we actually apply what seems to work already.
On the left-hand side is where things become un-ordered and cause and effect are unpredictable. So if you make a decision, we’re really not sure of the unintended consequences of what it might cause. In the top left one is where we have a complex situation. It’s where there’s unpredictable, uncertain outcomes, and it requires us to actually rather than sense for us to actually probe what’s going on and run safe-to-fail experiments to really find what’s going on, find responses as we sense.
And so our answers to this are often very emergent. We need to get all of their different areas and perspectives and experts in the room, and really come up with a solution there as well. And the bottom left for those of you that were managing during March and April last year will be very aware this is chaotic. It’s where we generally don’t know what’s going on. So, to bring order, we just have to act. And then we sense, and then we respond.
The way in which we respond is often quite novel. A lot of leaders will make very quick decisions during that time. Interestingly, organizations can either fall into the chaotic area accidentally, and sometimes even intentionally to create chaos to create change. And a good example of organizations doing that is things like hackathons as well.
So that’s the Cynefin method. It’s a really useful framework for managers. Managers generally live in a complex and complicated world.
The other thing you need to think about as you’re starting to think of the why when you’re making decisions is to, number one, just understand the strategy. Number one is to read it. And it never continues to amaze me how many managers have not read and understood the strategy. When we do strategic alignment training in organizations, we’ll often ask 15 managers, “How many of you have actually read the strategy?” And two or three will put their hands up.
So it’s really important to take responsibility and read the business plans of other departments, to read the strategy, and to understand how that influences your decisions; the level of risk that one should we take, the things that you need to prioritize above other things.
Sometimes strategies aren’t very clear. So what we really encourage you to do is to speak with your senior managers, and with your colleagues, and even the most senior of managers, your CEO, and ask questions. And that can really help guide you in terms of where you begin with your decisions and the first steps to take.
Dani Bacon: The other thing that’s kind of organization-specific is around culture. It’s not that surprising that cultural context really influences decision-making processes in all sorts of ways; some really obvious and others less so. So the levels of trust that is placed in people, the power and hierarchy structures, your organization’s tolerance for risk, whether an organization is focused on the short-term versus the long term, and all those sorts of things can play a part.
But culture can also affect when and how decisions are made and determine the speed at which they’re made. Culture determines what information is considered valuable, how information is interpreted, and how people are making sense of events. I think, also in terms of culture, it’s also important to recognize that managers will be influenced by previous decisions. So decisions that have been made before they’re even involved in the organization and their outcomes, and the extent to which they form part of the memory of the organization. They’re likely to be in policies or procedures or rules or in the individual or collective memories of those involved in your current decision-making process.
So you can find those sorts of things can either help the process or constrain it. It might perpetuate the status quo and people might be reluctant to change things. Culture can also determine whether you’re expected as a manager to make decisions independently without consulting others, or whether consulting with others is desired and expected. If your culture is really collaborative, then you might be expected to involve people in decision-making processes in a different way than you’re used to.
Garin Rouch: Yes, it’s really interesting. You can often tell what kind of culture you have by sitting in the senior leadership team meeting and looking at the decisions that they’re making. And often if you have things like an avoidance culture within the organization, you’ll see lots of decisions that should have been made at a lower level that find their way into the senior leadership team meeting, And it actually holds the meeting back. Rather than them focusing on the really important strategic issues and prioritizing the organization, they’re in the nitty-gritty operational stuff.
Dani Bacon: The other area to think about is corporate values. Corporate values can evoke mixed responses in people. Some people think they’re the most important thing ever; others, a lot less convinced. And certainly, if your values are just a nice list of words on the wall or created as part of a marketing exercise, then I tend to agree they’re probably not that important.
But where an organization has really done the work and really surfaced their core values and they’ve got this fundamental set of principles that they adhere to, then those values can really act as the North Star and play a really significant role in helping guide decision-making at all levels of the organization. So, if they’re really critical values, then they’ll provide a framework for making difficult decisions that help when resources are scarce, that help you know how to allocate these resources, or when you’re choosing a strategic partner to work with. They’ll help you determine who’s the most strategic partner.
There’s a number of researchers that strongly argue that organisational values really shape the decisions you make, but also the problems that are presented for decision-making. Worth bearing that in mind when you’re thinking about the context of decision-making.
The last part of our “why” of organizational decision-making is all around information. Most decisions involve a mix of opinions of your own and others and facts and sifting through all that data can be a real challenge. But it’s also a really important part of the decision-making process. So two kinds of issues really; Information overload is a real problem for organizations. Organizations today have got unlimited amounts of data, sales demographics, economic trends, competitive data, consumer behaviour, data about your people, efficiency measures, finance; the list is endless.
One of the phrases that popped up when we were doing the research was the idea that organizations are drowning in data whilst thirsting for information. We pulled out some research that found that businesses currently analyse less than 7% of the data that they collect. They’re also generating data at a much faster rate than any manager could master. And in parallel, the useful life of the data that they’re gathering is collapsing as the world around them is changing really quickly. So it’s really easy to get data, but it’s increasingly difficult to convert that into meaningful information to aid decision-making.
And then at the opposite extreme, you’ve got organizations experiencing a poverty of information either through lack of data, or more often than not, the lack of time or capability to find and understand the information they need. So we’ve got just a few tips on how to make the most effective use of data when we’re making decisions. And a big part of that has been structured about how you can work with data and information you’ve got.
First, you have to be clear on the problem you’re seeking to solve, or the decision you’re trying to make. Then work out what types of information you need to help you make that decision, and try to do that without being side-tracked by the data that’s easily available because that can distort what you can find out.
Make sure you assess the quality of the data you’re using. There’s always issues with data sources and none of them are perfect. It’s important you understand how the data was collected, what it was collected for, when it was collected, but generally, how much trust you can put in the data that you’ve got. And then lastly, look out for information that’s actually opinion disguised as fact. So always ask for the evidence.
Opinions are really useful inputs into a decision-making process, but you need to know they’re opinions and not confuse them with facts. So look out for people saying things like “everyone knows” or “people are saying that” or “I’ve met several people who” and just be a bit more curious and probe what’s being said,
Garin Rouch: There’s a real skill in the curation of information that’s required for a decision. I think sometimes what happens is if a decision is being made and the orders given out, some technical specialist doesn’t get some information. There’s a lot of information because they don’t want to leave the wrong thing out. And so when you do see things like board packs or spreadsheets, it’s often piles of more data, which the manager just doesn’t have the concentration levels, the time, or focus to go through.
So it gets lost and then they starts to rely on heuristics. There’s a lot of things that can be done where you actually ask for the interpretation of the specialist. And that helps them because it helps them be more commercial or more service-orientated because you’re actually asking them to bring some good analysis. And it also can really streamline the process as well.
Dani Bacon: Well, it can. Absolutely. If you’re going to involve experts, let them do their job. Let them apply their expert knowledge and the insights from the data from today. Just lastly on information; there’s a bias that’s important to be aware of and that’s confirmation bias. Sometimes we refer to it as anchoring bias, and that describes our underlying tendency to notice, or focus, or give greater credence to evidence or fits with our existing beliefs.
So once we’ve got an idea in our head, our brain starts to look for evidence to confirm it. At the same time, it starts filtering out any evidence that’s going to go contrary to that. So we form our mental models really rapidly, often on the basis of limited information, but we’re really slow to alter them as new facts emerge. It’s important to be aware of that. What do we do about it? Well, the first step is just being aware that it’s a problem, have discussions with people involved in decision-making about the fact that confirmation bias might emerge, when it’s likely to show up, and concentrate really hard to try to establish a neutral fact base. Get several parties to gather the information so you’ve got an objective data set, and make sure that all the facts get in before you start making decisions.
Garin Rouch: Oh, that’s so powerful, isn’t it? If you can go into a decision-making process with, “Okay. Well, this is what we agree with before we go into it,” that can make a huge difference going there.
Dani Bacon: Yeah, it can be so important. So that was our phase one; looking at the context of the what and why and deciding how to decide, categorizing your decision and aligning with organization strategy and taking into account cultural values information. So now we’re onto the second part, which is about who needs to be involved. Garin, do you want to take us through that?
Garin Rouch:Yes. I think it’s kind of starting with the end in mind with this bit. Often you find decisions falling down, especially when we go into the execution part because stakeholders — and when we say stakeholders, it could be anyone. It could be someone further down the process; it could be people that have authority, or actually, execute on it. They just don’t know you’ve made the decision, or they have information that will actually mean that if that was known at the time, you wouldn’t have made that decision.
So, really, it’s important when you actually go through that decision-making process, how you do it is to say how you’re going to engage with your stakeholders. And really, there’s a spectrum from inform over here. So all you’re going to do just inform them that you make a decision, educate them about what you’re doing. Then it goes over to consult where you start to, specifically, go out to different stakeholder groups, gather information views.
Then you’ve got the mid-level where you’re actually having dialogue and talking it through and getting a shared understanding before you actually start to lead that decision-making process. So the more collaborative, where you’re sort of framing the issues together with your stakeholders and you’re actually debating the options together as well, the high-quality solutions you come to.
Then finally, the most collaborative which is partnering, where you’re actually working with your stakeholders to frame the issue, select and implement solutions together. What you could argue is that on this side, these are quicker and these take longer. But the execution, strangely, works over this side much more because it just means that you do it once and you do it right and everyone’s bought into it as well. So it’s really important to think about how you’re going to do it. There is a phrase that managers sometimes use. Was it “stop until…”?
Dani Bacon: “Seek forgiveness, not permission.”
Garin Rouch: Yes, that one. It’s a very machismo kind of phrase, isn’t it? And I guess that it does work if you’re in a highly bureaucratic organization, but it’s not a heuristic that works in every situation. It’s really important to know that people feel included in your decisions. And it’s really important that staff feel included in decisions as well.
Dani Bacon: Yes, absolutely. There’s lots of research out there that if you involve your people in decision-making, then you have a happier, more effective workforce. I think going back to that seeking forgiveness not permission; it’s that difference that we’ve talked about that before – the difference between disruption and skillful disruption? If you run around making lots of decisions, you can create a lot of disruption, but you can also create a lot of damage. If you take a bit of time to think about how you’re going to do it, it can be a lot more constructive.
Garin Rouch: Yes, because we’ve all been on the receiving end of those things, and it very rarely ends well. And then we’re going to look at ourselves as individuals because we do bring our own perspectives in decision making. As Dani would say, 95% of decisions are subjective. So, two researchers, Simon and March, have argued that humans, when it comes to decisions, actually satisfice. And satisfice basically means to rather than optimize, we actually look for alternatives only to the point where we find an acceptable solution.
So we’re not looking for the perfectly optimal solution. And because we have to make so many decisions, an organization of 50,000 people makes 400 million decisions per day. So it’s not possible to do that level analysis. So, we employ things like heuristics and rules of thumb to actually make decisions. And most of the time, our shortcuts do serve us well, but what it also leaves us prone to is our cognitive limitations leading to errors in judgment. And smart people can make very poor decisions.
Often, poor decisions are not due to a lack of intelligence; it’s because we’ve got some form of bias. And these systematic mistakes, often called cognitive biases, are these decision-making traps that we fall into again and again.
The first one is overconfidence bias. Now, Daniel Kahneman, who’s a Nobel Prize-winning researcher into this field said if you could eliminate one bias, it would be this one. And it’s prevalent for all the population. Around 80% of the population at any one time will exhibit optimistic bias.
What it shows is that even physicians are overly optimistic in their diagnosis. It can show up in terms of how we believe an outcome is going to happen. So, if we think that our product is actually going to be successful, whereas we actually compare it to the number of new products that do actually succeed, you can see there’s a massive mismatch. And also, people often believe that they’re above average. So that again shows you that we often overestimate our ability.
The second cognitive bias that we’re going to talk about is “the recency effect”. It’s also known as the availability bias. It’s just that we tend to place too much emphasis on information and evidence that is kind of readily available around us right now, or our most recent experience. So if we’re on a hot streak, if our sales team are doing really well, we often have that thing of our decisions are good, we don’t need to do too much analysis, for example.
A really well-known example of this is, in the 90s, there was an Everest expedition, where two parties, led by two experienced leaders made a go for the summit when they knew that the weather conditions weren’t good. But because the tour leaders had experienced a consistent record of good weather in the last few seasons, they actually believed that they could do it.
There’s also a little bit of Summit fever, which is another bias that we won’t mention now. It was a belief that that was their experience, whereas mountaineers that had been doing in the 80s had spent years not being able to get to the summit so they were a lot more risk-averse. So it’s just making sure that when we look at our data that we go back in time further than maybe the most recent past.
So what can we do to actually work around those kinds of biases because biases are really hard baked into us? It’s very difficult to overcome them. But research has shown that even basic training in probability can make us better forecasters. It’s shown that it helps create faster decisions and 40% higher quality decisions and better execution, just by presenting to your team.
Another challenge that managers can have is that they present their ideas with such confidence and such certainty that the team is just like, “Well, I’ve got some concerns about it, but who am I to challenge that?” So, as a manager, if you can present an idea with probability, like you believe that it’s got a 70% probability of working, then that introduces 30% that it might not.
And that gives your team a really good opportunity to talk those kinds of things through. And that can give you a much richer conversation where you start to raise some constraints around the decision to make sure you don’t stray into areas that could potentially make you fail.
Dani Bacon: Yes. There was some really nice research done by the Rotterdam School of Management where they looked at projects. And they found that projects run by junior managers were more successful than those run by senior managers, and that was attributed to the fact that people were much more willing to share their ideas and challenge the junior managers leading the projects than they were with senior managers: Overconfidence and that willingness to listen to senior people can be a real problem in decision-making.
Garin Rouch: Yes. There’s another research and I can’t quote it precisely, and it’s just that older people use less evidence to make decisions. And that could be for a variety of reasons, but it often is because you’ve got that kind of intuition at play. Again, it would be remiss of us not to do a section on this without talking about the role of intuition.
So, it’s about understanding that intuition is something that we use a lot in decision-making. So, what is it? It’s about pattern recognition and pattern matching based on our past experience. The psychologist, Gary Klein, has done some great research on this, particularly in the military, and looking at how decisions are made and the use of intuition and when it’s most effective and when it’s least effective.
Often, the argument is that if you’re more experienced, then you should rely on intuition more. If you’re less experienced, then your intuition doesn’t have so many past experiences to go with. Therefore, there’s a greater need for analysis as well. The most important thing with intuition, though, is to show your workings so that your team understands the rationale behind it, and it makes sense to them. So that when you’re giving them instructions, they can understand the intent behind it, and they’re more likely to follow it rather than thinking, “How on earth did the manager come with that idea over there? How on earth are we going to follow that?”
There’s a lot of different things you can do to actually help support that intuition. It does have a role to play. We’re not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing, but it’s good, like in all things, to have balance.
One good way is to apply disciplined intuition. Again, a little bit of research, which is what’s really useful is to actually do the analysis first and then apply the intuition. Then that intuition has got a much more sort of specific container to work in. Another way of doing it is to actually do things like premortem exercises. You probably know this quite well, but it’s where when we make a decision, prior to that, we’ve just worked through, if this decision was to go wrong, why would it have gone wrong? And that can start to help us understand some analysis as well.
Another really good scholar is Karl Welch, and he came up with a really nice way to explain your intuitions that you have as a manager to your team. He came up with a very simple five-step process which I quite like, which is you go to your team when you’ve made your intuitive decision, and you share: number one, here’s what I think we face. It’s your assessment of the situation.
Number two, here’s what I think we should do. So that’s what your intuitive thought is. Three, here’s why; your rationale. Four, here’s what we should keep eye on. So these are things that might be risks to the project. Number five is; okay so that’s what I think. Now, talk to me or have a facilitated discussion in pairs amongst yourselves, and then come back to me and tell me am I right? Am I wrong? What do you think the risks are? And that can lead to a much better conversation and rapidly increase the chances of buy-in as well.
Dani Bacon: Lovely. Thanks, Garin. The other thing when you’re making decisions in an organization, a lot of the time you’re going to be making a decision in a group setting. There’s lots of research out there to show that overall, on average, groups tend to make better, more considered decisions than individuals, and the idea that the two heads are better than one is fairly widespread and the research backs up for the most cases. In part, it’s about getting more diverse perspectives and ideas and ways of thinking. And also, it just tends to be seen as fair and more democratic if you’ve used a group to help you make the decision.
But superiority of groups is not a given. It brings with it different risks and challenges and can be an area where many organizations struggle to make it work. That social nature of decision-making means you’re adding a huge number of additional variables into the mix. So, yes, you’ve got 185 cognitive biases out there you need to multiply that by the number of people you’ve got in your group. So times 6 or 10, or that sort of thing.
So things get much more complex when we’re looking at that interactive type of decision-making. And Peter Drucker, back in the 1960s, said, first of all, with decision-making is that you don’t make a decision unless there’s disagreement. That idea that challenging perspective is good. It’s about balancing that so it’s constructive disagreement rather than unhealthy conflict that you end up involved in.
There are some tips for how you make group decision-making more effective. The first step is about how you frame the decision-making process. Cognitive research has shown consistently that how you talk about a decision or a situation or how you frame it can really change how people respond and react to that situation. So, as a manager leading a decision-making process, this gives you a real opportunity. If you frame the decision-making processes as a negotiation, then people are going to go into that process with one what mindset, and it’s more likely they’re going to try and get their position supported, or go in thinking they need to argue their corner or defend their ideas.
If you cue up the group on the idea that it’s about cohesion, it’s about unity, or it’s about making the most accurate decision, then people will go into it with a different mindset and they’re more likely to take time to explore the information, accept different opinions and make a shared decision more than just trying to fight for their own corner.
Garin Rouch: Yes. And that sort of talks to prospect theory as well, which is the language that a manager uses to actually frame it has a critical factor. If you frame it as a threat, i.e., the classic burning platform, what you often get is a lot of resources thrown at it but it reduces creativity substantially. So, it’s really good for managers to actually frame the problem in multiple ways to give the group a chance to look at it from different perspectives.
Dani Bacon: Yes, absolutely. And that’s the other thing is to pay attention to group dynamics and group processes when you’ve got group decision-making going on. So, the first step, have you got the right people in the room?
This is a little bit of what we talked about earlier with stakeholders. Make sure you’ve got the people who need to be involved. It can be a bit tempting to exclude those you know are a difficult person, but then miss a really valuable opportunity to hear their perspective. And if they’re going to play any part in rolling out the decision later, involve them earlier than later.
Garin Rouch: A very outspoken manager once said to me, “It’s better to have them peeing out the tent than in the tent” I think that’s a metaphor we can all identify with.
Dani Bacon: Absolutely. Second, do people know why they’re involved? How often do people get involved in a process or a meeting and they’re not really clear why they’re there? Just make sure that everybody knows what decision needs to be made and what their contribution to that is.
And it sounds really obvious, but unspoken differences in understanding can really send your discussions and process off-track before you’ve even started. The other thing around group dynamics and group processes is an important bias to be aware of. And that’s something known as the common knowledge effect — the idea that information that’s shared amongst the group will dominate the discussion.
So people spend a lot of time telling each other things they all know. If the information is known by everybody in the room, that will dominate the discussion with so much more time talking about that than the information that might just be held by one person. You need to create a forum where people have that time and space to bring forward the knowledge that only they know.
Make sure the group really understands that the whole purpose of that discussion is to raise the overall knowledge of the team. Have a leader who’s setting up a norm of information sharing, who encourages people to stimulate information exchange, and go through the process. Make sure you lay out all the information before the decision gets made.
The other part of the group process is to have a good dialogue and discussion. I know you’ve done some research, Garin, about the importance of dialogue in decision-making processes.
Garin Rouch: Yes, McKinseys have found that when it comes to effective decisions, the biggest contributor of effective decision 53% is dialogue. Information is 8%, but it’s that quality of dialogue that makes the critical factor.
Dani Bacon: Yes, absolutely. So dialogue is not just about getting agreement. It’s about encouraging people to participate and creating the pooled share of meaning, which leads to aligned action. So, how things are framed and how they’re talked about becomes a significant context for shaping how people think about and respond to a situation.
On a really simplistic level, the idea of that glass half full, glass half empty. How you frame the situation and how you talk about it generates the reactions, the responses that follow. And in any group, you’re going to have multiple realities.
Everybody’s going to have their own story or their own narrative or their own mindset that they’re applying to a situation. People are bringing their own histories with the topic and what they’ve experienced in the past and how they see the present really affect what they say.
Garin Rouch: Yeah. And if you go full-circle back to the Cynefin model…
Dani Bacon: And I think especially if you’re a manager walking into a new situation or you’re leading a decision-making process, it’s really important to recognize that it’s unlikely that this form of decision-making process you’re kicking off is the first time this particular issue will have been discussed. You’re not going to be starting with a blank slate. You’re entering a stream of conversations that have been going on for some time.
So it’s really important to get a sense of those discussions before and during the process. What do people know? And acknowledge the past. It’s really important that people feel the past and the history recognized. Obviously, don’t let it dominate the debate, but it’s really important that people feel that that’s been acknowledged.
Garin Rouch: And some decisions are taboo, like, we’ve just made a collective unconscious decision to never discuss this. And it’s really important to understand what those things are. You need to clean the house and sort these things out, but you need to understand what those things are.
Dani Bacon: Yes, you do. Bob Marshak talks about this quite nicely. He talks about there’s things on the table, so there’s things that people feel can or should be discussed. There’s things under the table that people know you ought to be talking about but they’re reluctant to go there and they’re scared to bring it up. And then there’s things he describes as over the table, so that’s kind of things like dreams, values, and unspoken hopes. So it’s a really nice way of looking at it.
Garin Rouch: As consultants, we’re just so acutely aware of this because it can provoke extraordinary actions. That’s why we would say, 95%, the predictor of success is preparation for decision-making, isn’t it?
Dani Bacon: Absolutely. And then just one final point, we won’t labour it because we talked about it in podcast two, and that’s about, are people willing to say what they really think and feel? Have you created psychological safety for that group that are making the decision process?
So that’s given some really good insights into the people-related dynamics around decision-making. Now we want to get practical and give you some tools to help you actually make decisions. Garin, you want to take us through that?
Garin Rouch: Absolutely. We’re going to get super tactical now. What we’re going to give you are five explicit techniques to support you during decision-making. Now, it’s really important to remember that they are tools. They will not give you the definitive answer, but what they do is that they will contribute to that 53% of dialogue being much more meaningful, much more focused, and much more robust in terms of a process as well.
So, there’s five things that we’ve kind of agreed so far, which is the five C’s of decision making. We’ve looked at composition; so who should be involved in the decision-making process. We’ve identified the context; so what type of decision we’re going to make. We’ve looked at communication; so how are we going to use dialogue to come to a conclusion. We’ve looked at control; as the leader, how you’re going to control the process, and who has decision-making rights. And then we’ve also looked at categorising the decision as well.
So, in terms of the first tactical thing is something that teams often overlook but can easily remedy. And that’s just this very simple thing of generating options. Often I’ve sat in leadership meetings or team meetings, and someone presents something, and the option, literally is are we going to do it or not? That doesn’t lead itself to an expansive conversation, and it often brings group dynamics into play.
If you’re the person that you know maybe in the past you’ve disagreed with a few things, but you see holes in it, and the group have got overconfidence bias, it takes a lot for you to actually say that maybe we shouldn’t do this because you’re just like being seen as a stick in the mud or you’re not on the bus, or whatever it is that they want to describe you as. So people censor themselves.
So we just end up with these decisions that should never have even seen the light of day. Always look, three vendors, four or five, whatever it is, to have choice and to explore, and you can compare like for like as well. And even if you can’t get three different vendors to choose from, but at least there’s three other options you can have, which is the option to expand. Firstly, to go really big on this decision. Really double down or triple down on your current decision at some point.
The option to delay; so we are going to do it but we’re just not going to do it now, can also be a really rich conversation that creates all the options to just abandon it and to actually explore another avenue. And if you introduce those things, then again, you’re really encouraging the team to have a very thought-through conversation around that as well.
Dani Bacon: The other technique I read about was just consider the next adjacent possibility. So, if you’re really struggling to come up with an option, just think what’s the next thing in the next square across that we can do if people need something to help them get going with option generation.
Garin Rouch: 100%.That’s a really nice idea Yeah. Simplicity is sometimes key and I really like that. Option number two is work up your options; work them through. Like, what do these actually mean? Because you have to present a new idea to generalists or people that don’t have expertise in your domain. It’s your job to educate them about what this looks like. What are your assumptions? What’s the payback? How does this pay through?
A really nice tool for this is something called a decision tree. So, if you’ve got option one and option two, on the screen we’re just showing you for a very simple thing. If you’re going to take a lease on your office for 12 months or 24 months, and then it’s just some very simple calculations that start to work out so that people can actually see, what is the end? What are these two different scenarios work out to be? That makes so much more informed decisions.
I sit in a lot of trustee meetings and trustees have the hardest job in the world. They meet quarterly. They’re not experts in the charity. They don’t know that much about what’s going on, and then they have these decisions: do we do it or not? And there’s very little calculation about it. And that’s why often governance is seen as a challenge.
Number three, and really important is to set and evaluate your decision-making criteria. So, if we’re in gut feel, we’re making these intuitive decisions. This is about bringing to the light of day what are the specific things which we base this decision on? So there’s a process to follow.
A tool for doing it, and there’s lots of others but this one is a common technique and it works well. I use it a lot with groups in coaching for individuals who have made decisions. And that’s the trade-off analysis. You might also know it as the decision matrix analysis. The first thing you do; identify your options. Then you identify your criteria; it could be four, five, six criteria from which you’re going to base your decision. And not all criteria are equal. What you do then is you invite the group in to have a really good discussion where then actually give them a weight.
It could be five is the most important; one is least important. And that discussion is really rich because that’s you as a group working through it to decide what’s most important. And don’t go down for consensus where we all agree that everything is five because that’s not going to lend itself. You’ve seen that before, Dani?
Dani Bacon: I have and I think it’s particularly true when you’ve got functional heads, where the criteria already align to their functional responsibilities and they’re kind of trying to argue their case but they’re really dodging the important conversation if you let people get away with rating all the criteria as equal. You need to push the group to really challenge themselves and each other on what are the really critical decision-making criteria we need to weigh more heavily.
Garin Rouch: One of the things for managers and this is for a session in the future is to encourage enterprise thinking, not departmental thinking. So then we go through a process of scoring each option across those criteria. You then calculate the weighted scores, and it then gives you an arbitrary number. You can then apply your intuition over the top of that, and then you really start to get into some really good thought in terms of what it looks like.
The fourth one, which is really important, again, this is a real weak spot for a lot of organizations is to actually think of the implications; to really think of the second-order effects of what might happen as a result of this. Often, we’ve got a pain or anxiety on our desk, and we just want it off, quick decision. But we don’t think through what might happen in a month, six months 12 months, 24 months. What’s the opportunity cost? What if something else comes along?
So it’s really having a framework to do it and a really nice tool for that is the PMI table. PMI stands for plus-minus implications, really simple. You want a table for each option; all the pluses that come from it, all the minuses, and all the implications that you can think of. And the implication can be plus or minus. Then again, score the concepts, calculate the totals, and then that gives you an arbitrary number.
Again, it would have really invited your team into exploring what it looks like as well. And then building on the Cynefin model that we looked at earlier and similar to the agile methodology is the idea of experiment. And this is where we’ve got complex problems. We genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen. We launch a product and until the market starts to consume our product or not, we don’t know. So, what we do is we actually start to run low-risk, or safe-to-fail experiments.
I think Jim Collins quite nicely put it as “firing bullets then cannonballs”. So it’s kind of low-risk, low-distraction experiments. And the whole point of management is really mastering this and I think that’s something that other fields could really benefit from actually understanding how they do it. For example, Strategyzer is a really nice school of thought. They’ve got some really nice collateral, and they identified 44 experiments that you can do to make sure that your ideas are feasible, viable, and desirable. And so what it does is it reduces uncertainty before you actually fully commit.
Dani Bacon: So we’ve made our decisions, we might think the work is over, but actually, the last phase is probably potentially the most tricky part. So that’s implementation. All the effort we put into making decisions and that can be wasted if you don’t give enough time to deciding how to roll out your decision.
So it means that not only do you have to make good decisions, but you have to be able to implement them effectively. And the process we’ve used to make decisions often has a great impact on whether we can actually do that implementation successfully.
I was reading the CIPD report on employee engagement that came out last month, and that found that the perceived fairness, consistency, accuracy, and openness in decision-making was really strongly associated with employee commitment and identification to an organization. And that in itself was a predictor of how much discretionary effort employees put into it, but it also includes things such as staff turnover, job satisfaction, employee wellbeing, and attitude. So getting the decision-making process right is so important.
Garin Rouch: It’s really powerful stuff, isn’t it? You have to get this bit right. It doesn’t matter how good your decision is if you get this bit wrong.
Dani Bacon: You’ve wasted a lot of effort and a lot of time. For this last section of the webcast, we’re going to look at two key elements of decision implementation. The first one is around procedural justice and then the second one’s around communicating the decision.
So, first up, procedural justice. By procedural justice, we mean it’s about the fairness and transparency of the process you’ve used to reach a decision, and you need to pay attention to two things. First up, was the process there and transparent? If people perceive the decision was preordained and think the process was just an exercise in paying lip service to consultation and collaboration, I think we’ve all been there, then they’re much less likely to buy-in the decision that has been reached.
Then the second thing you need to pay attention to around procedural justice is that people believe the process; that they perceive the process is fair and transparent. There’s really limited value in investing time and effort in a fair collaborative decision-making process if people just don’t understand how you’ve got to bounce it or they aren’t aware that process has been followed. I think that’s especially important.
If your organization has got a history of decision-making that’s been perceived as unfair, you have to work so much harder to change people’s perceptions of that. If you run a super transparent, super fair process, people will have perceptions about how things have been done in the past and they’ll bring that forward. So it’s really important as leaders, we’re testing for alignment between our views and perceptions of the process and how the people involved in the process and people around the process see it.
At times, leaders think the process was fair but the team members have got a really different idea and that could be quite big.
So, what are the components of a fair process? We talked about some of them. Make sure you share information equally with everybody involved. Really ramp up the openness and transparency as you go through. Avoid including typical alternatives; people will spot that a mile off. If there’s an option in there that’s just for show, people will see it so just don’t go there. And help people separate advocacy from analysis. Give them time and space to consider the analysis and weigh up the options before they get into championing a position or an idea.
Recognize that conflict in the decision process and that need for procedural justice and legitimacy are at odds with one another. In fact, you enhance that perception of justice and legitimacy if you give people an opportunity not only to share their views but also debate them with others in an open and transparent environment.
Garin Rouch: And there’s a skill there for managers as well to make sure that you do encourage discussion and exchange of views, but you don’t have the perception of winners and losers. We are trying to do this for the better good and we’re exchanging views. That’s quite critical, isn’t it?
Dani Bacon: Yes, absolutely. If you can shape that win-win attitude then you’re going to make your life a lot easier if everybody comes away feeling heard and feeling their position has been understood and taken into account. Yes, people need to believe that their leaders listen to them and consider their view seriously before taking a decision, even if the decision doesn’t go the way people were hoping.
If people really feel they’ve been listened to and taken seriously, then that can go a long way to helping. Some people care about processes, and not just outcomes when it comes to decision-making. Garin, do you want to talk to us about communicating the decision?
Garin Rouch: Yeah, and again, this is something that’s really straightforward. Managers are very busy and very action-orientated. And often in that firefighting mode, the decision is made, and then you move on from it as well. But there really needs to be some governance around decisions as well and to make sure that… just some very simple thing to think about is frequency.
You’ve communicated your decision; how are you going to communicate it out? What mediums/channels are you going to use? PDF? Discussion? Townhall? Slide deck? Both audio and video? How often are you going to check in on that meeting and also check in on the people that you’ve made the decision with to show that it’s still important? And how do you actually keep them informed that you’re making progress? Are you going to do it a couple of times a year?Are you going to do a quarterly business review? Are you going to do it monthly?
You know I was listening to the CEO of Google and when he has an issue and needs a decision made, he makes people meet daily about it to show that he sees it as being really important. In communication, it’s really important to provide the big picture, how it relates to the strategy; to give it meaning, but to give it credibility as well, and to make it meaningful for people to actually be doing this.
Rather than thinking, “Well, that’s just your pet project.:” And also, relating it to the strategy and talking about how it aligns to other departmental goals. I think that’s really important. And sometimes your decision will make other people’s lives more difficult and stop them achieving their goals. And they’ll have to put their priorities down in order to do so.
Let’s be realistic here; that is often brushed under the carpet. Someone has to shake the magic time tree and bring some time out of somewhere to actually make this happen. We need to have a really honest, grown-up discussion about this and explain the secrets and how it’s going to work with your other manager from the other department and talk about it so that we’ve agreed this together.
And what’s also really important is, explain the trade-offs in your decision. I see this a lot with organizational restructure. It’s like, “This is it. This is going to work.” But no organizational structure is perfect. It’s all a trade-off. If you explain to people, “This is what it’s going to help and this is what it’s going to create negatively. We have to find a way to work with it.” That gets a lot more buy-in, rather than people having chats on WhatsApp or Messenger or whatever, talking about how it’s not working. You gotta talk about this as well.
Follow up is key; making sure that you’ve got goals, you’re tracking the progress, you’re celebrating the success of achievement of milestones. You’ve got to keep paying attention to it or it will become a fad. Something I see a lot with acquisitions; so much effort goes into the due diligence and the purchase and that’s well, and then it comes into the mundane operationalization, and the managers have gone off somewhere else. And these poor people are left with it to actually implement.
The managers got to stay there and stay with it and still make time as well. Put a plan, put a structure in place, make it public, be clear, track progress, ask questions, be accountable, show the accountabilities. And then the other thing as well is feedback and review. Often, if a manager’s made a bad decision, they just don’t want to talk about it because it looks bad on their career. But everyone talks about it and it is held against you the next time it’s done.
Managers can actually get away with making poor decisions if they learn from it and can actually get more respect and more credibility as well. So have feedback sessions, and also really importantly, review the processes of decision-making. And also, review the options. How did the other options play out? Option B might actually turn out much better. That’s okay; we learn from it. That’s how organizations get better and better.
It’s really important to remember that decision-making is a muscle. The first time we do it as a team, it’s often really clunky, it can be quite tiring as well. We build muscle. We do it every day. We work on it every day, and eventually, we just become much better. It’s a competence as well. Again, it’s a really critical area. It is overlooked, but it’s very easily remedied
Dani Bacon: Lovely. Thanks, Garin. So, that’s all four phases of our model. Just a quick recap. Phase one was about the what and the why; so that’s all about the context and categorizing the decision. Phase two was about the who. Who needs to be involved and how do we manage the people dynamics. Phase three was about the how; so what tools can we use to help surface options and weigh them up. And then phase four was what’s next; so how to implement and communicate your decision.
As always, we like to leave you with three specific actions. We’ve given you a lot of information, but if there were three things that we could get you to go away and do straight away, these are the things. Over to you, Garin.
Garin Rouch: Number one is really simple: up front, decide the process. Just be really clear and communicate it and stick to it.
Dani Bacon: Number two is be aware of bias. Be aware that bias might come into play and deliberately explore what biases might pop up and when you might see them. And think through how you might mitigate them and make sure everybody involved in the process knows that bias might play a part.
Garin Rouch: One that I’d go for is to use tools to support you, to generate good conversations. So use it to generate options, use in your decision-making criteria, and use it to explore the implications before you actually make the decision.
Dani Bacon: Lovely. Thank you. That’s the end of our session on decision-making. We’d love to hear your feedback and if you’ve got any ideas for content for future sessions, then we’re all ears and we’re willing to look at that.
Our next session is on wellbeing. If you’ve watched us on YouTube, then we really appreciate you giving it a like, and if you click on the subscribe bell, you’ll get notified when the next session is ready to watch.
A huge thank you for watching us today. We look forward to seeing you at the next one.
Garin Rouch: Thanks so much.
Dani Bacon: Thank you.