decision, choice

What the Best Teams Do to Optimize Their Decision Making

Making decisions for yourself difficult. For teams, multiply the difficulty of decision-making even more! Not only do decision-making biases and pitfalls abound, but chances decrease of reaching a solid decision  when the process used is found lacking. There are, however, some aspects of decision-making that will lead to better decisions if you include them in your process. Consider making your decision-making more conscious, intentional, and systemic by taking into account these decision-making factors to make better team decisions:

Team Identity & Aspirations

What in the world does “team identity” have to do with decision-making? Well, it turns out, a lot. How your team sees itself is the foundation of a good decision.

A solid decision ultimately is based upon your team’s purpose, vision, values, and goals. A good decision reflects why your team exists (purpose), how they envision themselves being successful (vision), and how the decision reflects core team values.

Additionally, your team must be clear about what they are trying to achieve with the decision they will make. That is, how will the decision further current team goals or more general aspirations? When all is said and done, a good final decision will meet the needs of team stakeholders, inside and outside the organization.

Decision Implications

Not every decision is life and death. However, the decisions your team makes are probably important; otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending team time on them. So, to help the team gauge the level of importance, consider the potential cost of making the wrong decision. As a team, estimate how much time, money, energy, etc. is hanging in the balance to put the decision in perspective, including the potential costs in terms of time, money, and energy.

Criteria for Viable Options

How will your team know which decision is best? It’s key to create decision criteria. Key criteria are those attributes that enable the team to discern options that are “better” or more desirable and feasible than others.

To begin your attributes list, start with the components of team identity & aspiration and the implications of making the right or wrong decision above. For example, the “decision has to further our overall goal of X; serve stakeholder A, B, C; not jeopardize our relationship with stakeholder D; and allow us to meet our deadline of May 31st.” From these basic building blocks. The team can suggest or brainstorm additional criteria as necessary throughout the decision-making process as new information comes to light.

External Data & Its Interpretation

Another consideration is the use of additional data to aid in making a decision. Indeed, gathering and interpreting qualitative and quantitative data is where much decision-making time is usually spent.

Default decision

Before your team formally starts collecting statistics and opinions, take the small but important step of taking a straw poll to see what the team would do if they had to make the decision without further input. Why?

The “default decision” is like a starting point that the team can use to determine additional data it wants or needs to convince team members that its seemingly obvious “default” option is appropriate or not. “Based on what we know today and our preliminary criteria, we’d decide to do X. What added information might allow us to see if that option holds up?”

Additional data

With the default option in mind, the team can use common sense, analysis, and curiosity to decide on, collect and use additional data to test their initial “default” option. Also, after reflecting on the additional data desired to make the decision, your team may have a better sense of additional key criteria to consider when making the decision.

Using the additional data and the team’s criteria for a good decision, it can generate and evaluate options that warrant further consideration before making the final decision.

Confidence in the Decision

Once the team has settled on its decision, it’s wise to do a final gut check regarding the team’s level of confidence in the final decision. If the team indicates low confidence in the final decision, the team can determine what it needs to do to increase its confidence to an acceptable level.

Good decision-making can have a large impact on team performance. Decisions don’t happen on their own. The best teams make better decisions because they intentionally consider their team purpose, aspirations, implications, data, criteria, and confidence in the final decision.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

teams, adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

management, role

What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you.

When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn’t do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible.

Even though I didn’t see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn’t fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What’s Their Story?

Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue.

Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don’t go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction’s values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.

How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?

For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will “tweak” you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you’ll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly.

With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

head in the sand; appease

How to Know If You Are an Appeaser

An Appeaser is the opposite of the Micromanager I wrote about previously in How to Know If Your Are a Micromanager. True micromanagers get a bad rap and deservedly so. However, if you’re an Appeaser, your leadership style is just as ineffective and can cause low team morale.

The Appeaser’s Narrative

If you’re an Appeaser, you seek “peace” and stability over achieving desired results in a timely manner. Consequently, you often keep your “head in the sand”. The story you tell yourself is that it’s your job to make sure everyone gets along. Also, you don’t go looking for trouble. You like to believe that if you don’t see problems, they don’t exist. Thus, you stay out of things as much as possible and allow your team to monitor themselves. No news is good news, so if you don’t hear anything negative, you assume your team knows what to do and will get things done. Accordingly, you don’t check in or follow up on their progress.

Appeaser Behaviors

Appeaser will often:

  • Allow team members to operate on their own assumptions about their roles and responsibilities to remain under the belief that things are all right.
  • Rely almost completely on team’s ability to self-organize while setting few if any parameters.
  • Disregard being explicit about purpose, objectives, values, norms, or system parameters.
  • Avoid following up on progress for fear of walking into problems you don’t want to face.
  • Avoid conflict to avert negative reactions from others.
  • Resolve individual complaints to give the complainant what they want for the sake of peace in the moment, without considering implications of the decision to the team or larger group.
Results of Appeasement

As an Appeaser, other may see you as warm and kind; however, you may create more disruption than you think as you pursue your idea of peace because . . . .

  • Work is stymied and the team is less effective than it could be.
  • Team members are often stuck in “limbo” waiting for things to move forward before they can take their work to the next level.
  • Team members are put in the awkward spot of explaining to those outside the team why things aren’t moving forward or why issues aren’t addressed.
  • You undermine group cohesion by granting too many individual exceptions to standard policy and procedure.
Shifting from Appeaser to Leader

If you see yourself as an Appeaser, you can shift to a more balanced leadership approach by seeing yourself more like a Steward of the work. When you do this, you learn to place the work at the center of every decision you make instead of having “peace”. You will find yourself facilitating discussions to get everyone on the same page regarding purpose and norms. You’ll put conditions in place that allow for robust discussions to hash out topics that might have been too unnerving for you previously. In short, you will move from Appeaser to Leader.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

workplace boundaries, appease

Better Workplace Boundaries: Saying “No” Strategically

You might be feeling overworked or overwhelmed because there doesn’t seem to be enough time for you to do what you want and must do. So many people want you to weigh in or work on something. So many tasks need to be accomplished now! You might feel torn in so many directions, or feel you’re not moving forward with the important or critical work.

It’s hard to hear, but chances are it’s mostly your own fault.

If this sounds like your experience, it’s very possible you established boundaries that serve everyone else instead of you. Consequently, your boundaries aren’t working for sanity or productivity (although they might be serving your ego identity and that will be another blog post for the future).

Why would you put yourself in the position of being pulled in too many directions for your own good? As a woman, there are biological and cultural forces that might be contributing.

Female Biology and Cultural Attitudes Encourage Women to Foster Relationships

Biologically, research using brain scans shows that female brain structure and function put a premium on bonding with others and building relationships. Additionally, the female hormone estrogen and the hormone oxytocin (usually higher in females), promote bonding with others. Moreover, many cultural norms expect women to be “warm”, accommodating, and passive.

While there’s nothing wrong with showing warmth, putting others first, and not always getting your own way, it’s not always required or even healthy for you to put your needs, wants, and priorities last. When your own attention and priorities slip to the bottom of the list on a regular basis, you’ll feel negative emotions, such as taken for granted, underappreciated, or overwhelmed. You can avoid these feelings by enforcing healthy boundaries that serve to honor your priorities while allowing you to be a team player who appropriately pitches in to assist others.

In order to do this, you’ll want to consciously and strategically choose when to say “no” to protect your own time, attention, and energy and when to work on others’ priorities for the good of your team or company.

If your plate is already full, here are some guidelines for when, to whom, and how to say “no”:

Who’s Asking?

Consider your experience and position. The more senior you are, the more leeway you have to “say no” to others with less experience or seniority, unless it will be good for your career in the company; gives you desired/important job skills; or will be personally gratifying.

As a general rule, you will honor requests from your boss or other senior leader. If that feeling of overwhelm creeps in, work with your boss to ensure you both agree how you will re-prioritize your other projects and tasks as necessary.

When Saying “No” Is Warranted.

Consider declining a request for your time, attention, and energy when the request does not come from your boss and when at least one of the following is true:

  • The work does not align or correspond with your current personal and work priorities.
  • You can’t accept the request without your other work priorities suffering;
  • The requested work does not offer you a significant opportunity for learning or career development; or

Another way to look at it is consider saying “yes” if the requested work fits in with your current priorities; you can take it on without putting your own work on hold; or the requested work is a great opportunity to learn or meet other people that will be great for your current position or your career trajectory in general.

How to Say “No” Without Appearing Uncaring or Selfish.

In general, it’s best to say “no” as little as possible and in line with your current time commitments and career aspirations. One suggestion is to indicate you’ll accept if certain conditions can be met. For example, you could say, “YES, I am happy to be a part of that project IF it will only take about an hour of my time each week.”

Other ways to say “no” include:

  • Indicate that the relationship is important by being gracious when “saying no”.
  • Take time to consider the request before declining. A fast, abrupt “no” can leave the other person believing you didn’t even listen to what they asked.
  • Be clear that you are saying “no”. Too much sugar-coating or hemming and hawing will bury your “no” and lead to misunderstandings.
    Show respect by declining requests in person if possible.
  • Don’t refuse a request just because it’s outside your comfort zone. Say “yes” if it won’t take away from your current focus and/or is related to your work priorities, learning, or career development.

You probably say “yes” to many requests to look like a team player when you really don’t need to. It’s okay to decline a request. However, when you do say “no”, it won’t always be easy. Keep in mind you are going against your biology and family or cultural norms. So, be smart about how you decline a request. Others will respect knowing where your boundaries are, and you’ll teach them over time when to ask.

WANT TO USE THIS  IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

feedback

Be the Bigger Person When Receiving Feedback

Giving quality feedback in a respectful way can be hard. Receiving feedback in a respectful way is even harder. (Even receiving positive feedback for some is difficult.) During and after receiving negative feedback in particular, do you notice you have heightened negative emotions or niggling thoughts that linger long afterwards? That just shows you care.

When I refer to feedback, I mean any information that is given to you about your own behavior, communication, or performance that is intended to make you aware of how you impacted someone else – whether good or bad. However, I’ll focus on receiving negative feedback, which often feels harder to swallow.

As a leader, you probably find yourself being the formal giver of feedback more often than a formal receiver of it. Still, there are many opportunities to receive feedback. You can solicit feedback from individuals, via employee surveys, or through a 360-degree feedback process. You may also receive unsolicited feedback from anyone at work.

Positioning yourself as a good receiver of feedback can be very powerful for you personally and as a role model for your team and the rest of your company. It really boils down to being the “bigger” person when receiving feedback.

If possible, you can practice receiving feedback on your terms by creating the best conditions possible to get feedback. These are situations where you have a lot of control by choosing the following:

  1. the specific feedback you wan;
  2. a non-threatening setting in which to receive the feedback; and
  3. people you respect and trust to provide the feedback.

Even under these conditions, it can still be hard to receive any negative or constructive feedback, but these might be the best conditions for implementing these tips for receiving unsolicited, negative feedback:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Even if you are high up the food chain, you aren’t perfect and are not above making improvements. To avoid getting your ego too involved, frame the intentions of the feedback giver in the best possible light. What are their good intentions for giving you feedback?

2. Keep your power in check.

Be aware of any power differential in your relationship with the feedback giver, especially if you have more positional power. It’s important to keep emotions down, or you risk having a chilling effect on getting future feedback. If you feel yourself getting angry, defensive, snarky, or deflecting blame onto others, these reactions can be magnified by your power and send amplified shockwaves back to the feedback givers or throughout your team. Or your heightened emotions may really be signaling your insecurity around the feedback topic.

3. Gauge your intention vs. impact.

Based on the feedback, how big is the gap between how you thought you were coming across and the actual impact you had on others? For most feedback, this the heart of the matter, or the point of the feedback. Take stock. It is, however, harder to gauge if you don’t respect the person’s opinion.

4. Accept the feedback graciously.

To do this, be quiet and listen without arguing. Avoid minimizing the person’s opinion, turning the tables on them to give THEM feedback, or disputing the feedback. Maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, and at the end, simply thank the person for their input. You may ask clarifying questions if necessary to understand the circumstances, or you may ask for specific tips you could employ to do better next time.

5. Consider the feedback.

You don’t have to accept all feedback as true or helpful. Take time in the subsequent days or weeks to decide what feedback to accept or reject. You may want to test the feedback with others you trust or validate the feedback by noticing your behaviors in similar situations going forward.

6. Circle back to the person.

When you circle back, you do so in the spirit of letting them know you’ve been considering the feedback and to thank them again for their candor. You are not obligated to report on what you’re doing about it. Just touching base with them again lets them know there are no hard feelings and serves as a good model for receiving feedback without letting it adversely affect work relationship.

Finding out you’ve fallen short of someone’s expectations can be hard. It’s just an indication of the degree to which you do care about being the best you can be. However, you show your colleagues and employees how to be a great leader when you can practice what you preach and give feedback as good as you get it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com. And get my Conversation Planner to help you decide how to give respectful feedback to someone else.