Build Alignment- Get Clear on Who Gets to Decide What
I used to teach a class on effective meeting management. One of the key lessons was how important it is to let people know the purpose of a meeting and what is expected from them. I made recommendations about getting agendas out ahead-of-time with clearly stated times, topics and presenters, so meeting participants would be well prepared. Role clarity was another key point, and the class learned about role expectations for the leader, the facilitator, the time-keeper, and general participants. But maybe the most helpful part of the class was a model for clearly identifying decision making expectations right up front. It is surprising how often people have different expectations about who should get to make a decision and what level of involvement they think they should have. Misunderstandings about decision making roles can often lead to conflict. Getting clear about decision making expectations goes a long way towards helping gain support for a decision and making sure people feel the process for making the decision is fair. The model’s acronym is DICE + S. Here is what it means along with some of the pros and cons for using each of the different styles:
The DICE + S Decision Making Model
The leader decides with little or no input from others. This decision making style is effective in situations of crisis or when the decision must be made very quickly. However, decisions made this way may suffer from incomplete information or lack of buy-in from others. Overuse of this style tends to result in demotivation and disengagement from others affected by the decisions when used too often. Most people understand that a quick decision must be made in an emergency and accept that some level of clean-up may be necessary in order to make the best of a time sensitive situation. However, most of us quickly get tired of correcting mistakes and doing rework caused by decisions made by someone with limited information, lack of direct process knowledge or lack of empathy for those affected. How many times have you heard complaints about a boss who makes decisions in a vacuum?
The leader decides after soliciting input from others (often advisors and/or impacted parties). This decision making style generally allows for timely decisions with a wider range of information. It may lack buy-in from those who disagree with the decision. One way the decision maker can increase buy-in is to acknowledge all contributions and opinions, even if the leader does not agree with a particular perspective. That way everyone at least knows they have been heard, and have had an opportunity to influence the decision, even if it ultimately does not go their way.
For example, a recent court case changed the way Washington State overtime laws were interpreted in the Agriculture industry. I was involved in an effort to update the administrative policies that spell out how regulators would administer the law given the new legal interpretation. The primary regulatory agency that enforces the overtime laws chose to use an input decision making style to make sure all perspectives were considered before making the changes.
I was the facilitator for this process and we scheduled a series of meetings to hear from farmers, agricultural workers, industry experts, and other affected parties. Time was also provided for written input. The agency developed draft policies based on the input and then scheduled additional public meetings to discuss the draft proposal, and added additional time for obtaining written feedback. As a result, changes based on the new input were made before the final policies were put in place. The process was highly effective. Participants from both the business and labor communities said that the process seemed fair and that they felt heard. They could see that their input made a difference in the final product even though they knew they were not the decision maker. They also recognized that the regulatory agency was not required to seek input for internal policies, but that by doing so, they understood why the final policies looked the way they did and that understanding likely avoided another round of legal challenges. Neither side got exactly what they wanted, but by giving them input into the process, both could support the outcome.
The decision is made by group agreement. In this decision making style, everyone in the group must agree to support the decision. Two common consensus methods are agreement and voting:
- The Agreement Method. Discussion continues until everyone in the group agrees that the decision is either their preferred solution or that they can at least live with the decision and support it. This option often takes more time to reach agreement but has the benefit of creating very strong buy-in, which makes implementation much easier.
- The Majority Vote Method. The entire group agrees ahead-of-time to abide by the majority decision. This method can be quicker but may not gain as much support from members who are outvoted.
In either case, participants actually help make the decision, and therefore usually have a stronger sense of personal investment in the final decision than if just the leader decides. This can be especially true when strong differences of opinion are present. Whichever method you choose, it can be very helpful to do a reality check at the end of the process by asking, “is there anyone who can’t live live with the decision or support it?” If someone says they can’t, more discussion is needed.
Facilitator note: A Thumbs-up, down, sideways method can be used to quickly determine consensus in a group. A thumbs-up indicates this is the group member’s preferred solution. A sideways thumb indicates the group member can live with the solution. A thumbs-down indicates the group member is not willing to live with (or support) the decision and therefore discussion must continue until a solution is found that everyone in the group can live with and support.
The decision is entrusted to someone else- either an individual or a sub-group. The entrusted individual or group is completely empowered to make the decision without further approval or check-in. The only catch is that those entrusted will inform the other stakeholders of the decision. This decision making model requires trust and can be very useful when not everyone in a group has an interest in a particular topic or when a complex task must be divided into smaller, more manageable pieces. It works best when clear communication methods and check-in points are created to ensure there are no unwanted consequences. Goal and role clarity are also critical, both the overall goal and the goal of each subgroup.
As an example, I worked in a large organization that conducted an annual employee engagement and satisfaction survey. One year, the division I worked in had the worst scores in every single category. The good news, was that the scores were actually an improvement from the prior year, but it was still pretty daunting news for the brand new head of the division who had recently inherited the situation. Instead of deciding to make changes unilaterally, or do the typical response of assigning each mid-manager the task of developing an improvement plan for their area, the new leader asked me to facilitate an all-staff meeting where we discussed the results with everyone and turned the problem over to the staff. We brainstormed potential causes and solutions. Then the entire group voted on which improvements they thought would make the biggest difference in improving morale and engagement.
A handful of ideas quickly rose to the top and several employee teams were put together to flesh-out the ideas and develop implementation plans. Managers were not allowed to be on the teams. Each team was given work time to develop ideas and a future meeting with the division leader was set for a report out. At the report out, each team presented their plan and identified any resources they needed. The work was fantastic! The leader approved most of the ideas on the spot and asked a couple of the teams for more information. One of the ideas was to create a permanent employee council to organize events and also to provide a safe place for employees to bring issues if they didn’t feel comfortable talking with their supervisor or manager.
The employee council now meets quarterly with the division leader and her deputy. Other ideas were implemented as well – all of them organized and led by staff. As a result, when engagement survey results were announced the next year, scores for that division went up again. However, this time our scores were comparable or above scores from other divisions. The employee groups didn’t solve all of the issues, but it certainly helped and the employee survey results showed it!
S= Share Information
Information is shared for informational purposes only. No decision is required. This isn’t really a decision making style, but it is quite helpful to let people know when a decision won’t be made to avoid confusion. For example, I have attended meetings where I expected to help make a decision on a particular topic only to receive an informational update instead. If I had known in advance that the meeting was only for information sharing, I likely would have used the time to do something different, because I had already gotten the same update in a different venue. This would have save me both time and frustration!
The DICE + S model provides helpful language for clarifying expectations and avoiding miscommunication or conflicting expectations. It allows group members to decide for themselves how much energy they want to put into a particular topic. It also allows group members to ask questions if they are not clear about roles or if they think a different decision style should be used. It can be very helpful to identify the decision style for each topic right on your meeting agenda, as follows:
Sample Agenda Headings:
|Time allotted for discussion||Pose as a question for outcome clarity||Lead for topic||Space for additional information||Indicate D, I, C, E or I|
Getting clarity around how a decision will be made is one step in helping everyone reach agreement on how to proceed. It won’t solve all of your meeting problems, but it will reduce frustration related to misunderstandings and increase the chances that everyone will support a decision. Even in informal meetings, without agendas, clarifying the decision-making style will help surface potential misunderstandings before they become a problem. It may also lead to a better understanding about how important topics are to different people and how they see their own roles.
Recommended Pro Tip– List agenda topics as questions to help determine the expected outcome for each topic. This will help meeting participants better understand the decisions they are being asked to consider.
Ways Thrive At Work Can Help
- Our G.R.O.W. Process workshop (2 hours) teaches leaders and work teams how to bring out the best in themselves and others as they clarify goals, identify resources, determine options, and decide on a way forward. This is a simple and memorable process that can be used to help accomplish any task or improve any process.
- Our Lead With Your T.O.E.S. workshop (2 hours) teaches leaders and work teams how to relate positively with each other for stronger outcomes. It can be used effectively to further optimize relationships and effectiveness when things are going well, and is also effective in particularly tense situations when other methods have failed.
- We are experts in group facilitation. If your group needs help getting started or needs repair, consider hiring us to facilitate.
- We can help your group learn how to catalyze synergy and creativity by learning about their unique individual strengths and overall group strengths. We can help you transform formerly agitating differences into creative partnerships.
As an additional resource on better meeting management, I recommend the Harvard Business Review article, How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting by Roger Schwarz.