Frame The Discussion Up Front to Create a Hollywood Ending to Your Boardroom Meetings
Friday evening … that wonderful time when the cares of the workplace can be put on the back burner. It’s a great time to decompress – at home with dinner, drinks, friends, maybe even a movie. And searching for that “what to watch” movie, whether from your local cable/satellite provider or online with Netflix or Apple TV, may be viewed as the easiest part of the whole evening.
But we know, from hard-won experience, that the actual selection of a movie that appeals is often the most challenging aspect of the whole evening. Time seems to disappear as you wander through various offerings and options – selecting various genres, looking at the most recent additions, scanning the ratings by the experts and then looking at previews. And depending on how many family members, friends or neighbors are involved, time starts to quickly slip away. Everyone seems to have an opinion – based on personal preferences and what they may have read and heard. An hour can easily vanish in this search for something that’s going to satisfy our expectations and satisfy our imagination.
Just like the weekend movie hunt, we also see something simple turn into a big deal in terms of time and decision-making when we look at leadership teams trying to reach agreement on a future course of action.
They often believe the choice will be simple after everyone has shared their ideas and preferences. But the reality frequently turns out to be something far different: It becomes a struggle to gain agreement and make a decision. Different perspectives based on experience and expertise, differing levels of information around the subject, and misaligned interests typically play out in the group setting.
Often, leadership teams jump into discussion without asking some key framing questions up front – before the discussion gets heated. To help with your decision making, the following considerations will improve your group’s engagement and ability to move forward:
- What’s the purpose of our conversation? Are you clear on the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve? Clarifying the intended result up front, helps the team understand what’s at stake and keeps the big picture in view during detailed discussions. You’d be surprised how many teams don’t get clarity on this piece and then struggle with differing perspectives.
- How much is this worth to us? Have you determined how big a priority this decision is to your success? If it’s worth lots, then make sure you give yourself the time to fully review and discuss the issue. Smaller, less important items should be bounded by specific time limits to keep things moving along.
- Who should be involved in making the decision? Have you got the right players in the room? Those with the crucial information, insights, and perspective are critical as are those who need to be active champions of the outcome. But be selective – make sure only those deemed “best fit” be part of the decision.
- What discussion guidelines will be in place? How do we ensure that we have a productive, not destructive, dialogue? Rather than use the standard lists of behavioural expectations (such as listen before speaking), try articulating something specific to the context of the discussion (e.g., what attributes do we need to display if we’re discussing this particular process/approach?).
- How will we make the final decision, especially when the going gets tough? (e.g. consensus, majority, expert, team leader). And what is the role of the team leader in the final decision?
- What critical background information is required to make an informed decision? Be ruthless in deciding what’s in the mix – there’s way too much information floating about to review it all.
- What questions will help us reframe our thinking? Use questions aligned with both logic (What are the pros/cons, and what are the logical consequences?) and emotion (What impact will this have on our people? What do we like and dislike?). Add in some consideration to group members’ intuitive sides (e.g. What else could this mean? What’s a new way to do this? How is this connected?) as well as their more realistic side (What do we actually know? How do we know? Will it work?).
- Who will be responsible for taking action on the decision we make? Have you identified the owners of any actions arising from the decision? Establishing this accountability up front enables those charged with action to ask clarifying questions during later stages of the discussion to ensure that they’re clear on next steps.
While things will change as the conversation evolves, some key preparations up front will ensure greater agreement and success; try to frame your script ahead of time and you’ll accomplish more in less time. You can create a Hollywood ending for your initiative, whether it is a drama, a comedy or a thriller.