Have you ever discussed something at length with your team without really arriving at a decision? 

You’re not alone. 

This often happens with organizations before they learn to communicate more effectively. 

For example, an operations group was having regular meetings on a change in their organizational structure, and they were struggling with why things weren’t going more smoothly. The group met about implementing the new organization design regularly as part of their weekly staff meetings, but progress with the implementation was slow.   

If they discussed the topic weekly, why couldn’t they move forward? 

Some team members felt that people didn’t accept ownership of their roles. Others thought some team members hadn’t made the structure changes a priority. 

I see this often and share their frustrations. Team members can talk and talk about a topic and still struggle to not only make a decision but figure out what information they need to make it. 

Along the same lines, teams can work on a shared goal yet have different thoughts and approaches to reaching it. This is often due to communication struggles and a lack of a shared vision. 

So, how do you turn talk into action?

To help the team use their weekly meetings more effectively and make progress with their new product launch, I suggested the following steps: 

1. Use pre-work questions to express individual thoughts and opinions on important topics fully. This gives people more time to reflect and share their ideas, so they arrive at the meeting ready to discuss important issues. This can be done through verbal conversations or in a written email.

Sharing answers with the entire group allows the team to come to the meeting with a common understanding of what each other thinks. People know what they believe but don’t always clearly understand what the rest of their team members think. 

The questions can tease out specific parts or aspects of the topic to help them understand their thoughts. Questions like: What do you think the purpose of the project is? What steps should be taken first? Who should be involved? What are your concerns about obstacles? These questions help team members pull apart a topic to understand and share their thoughts. 

2. Ask what questions people would like answered. In the example above, the participants asked 13 questions about the topic. Until then, it hadn’t been clear how much confusion was surrounding the product launch. 

3. Shift into decision-making mode when the time is right. First, teams need to know how to shift into decision-making mode and reach a consensus. Conversations are generally about sharing different ideas around a topic and exploring options, but at some point, a team can decide it’s time to move towards making a decision.  

A group then needs to consider where they are mostly in agreement and where they see things differently. Conversations are circular and go nowhere when the group can’t summarize these two points. It’s often surprising when a group realizes they’ve been discussing a topic for some time, but all agree on most of the significant issues.

Mutual understanding leads to decisions. 

When the marketing group used these suggestions to discuss the new process for their product launch, they had the best conversation and product implementation to date. All it took was following the suggestions listed above and implementing an organized way to reach a consensus on the next steps. 

When they finally understood how other team members felt about the topic and made some initial decisions, they could not believe how easy it was. It was so simple that they planned to implement this process for all essential decisions or topics. 

Being of one mind

As groups or teams gain a similar understanding of a topic, they often become of one mind. Lack of understanding about what others think leads to disagreements, but the more people share, the more they adopt each other’s opinions. I often advise my clients to keep talking…with good communication, their differences will become smaller and smaller. 

If you would like to learn more about how these simple steps can help your team communicate and make decisions more effectively, email me at cheryl@leanleadershipcenter.com.

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