Making important decisions is a crucial part of running a successful business. However, many managers unknowingly limit their team’s ability to make these decisions, which can have a significant impact on the overall success of the company.
The Leadership Team That Couldn’t Make Decisions
In this case study, the hired consultant realized that her focus on process-oriented conversations was limiting the team’s ability to make important decisions.
She realized that people need space to talk about how changes will impact them personally, and that ignoring these personal factors can create roadblocks to success. She has since devoted her career to helping teams create space for these types of conversations and addressing the personal impact of change.
Setting the Stage: My Experience and Point of View
At the time, I was an experienced consultant and leader, with two degrees in software engineering and ten years of experience working with companies to help bridge the gap between end users and developers. I was about 3 years into a slightly new career of working with teams in large-scale transformations. Being the seasoned techie and ‘process chick’ that I am, I was prepared to come in and help this organization reach their desired change – and I knew just how to do it: with re-engineered processes and new tools!
I’m sure no one else has ever entered a team with all the answers but here I was… convinced that I could help them do this “the right way” and it was too focused on process.
An Executive Team and Difficult Decisions
Then one day, I was sitting in a room with the executive team I’d been working with for about nine months. We were in the deep end of the pool. They were making one of the most difficult decisions of their careers – to fundamentally re-organize – not just positions but departments and workflow. It included major geographical relocations for virtually everyone in the company and collectively rethinking everything. It was big.
So far, my approach had been to give people space to talk about the process of the transformation: the business decisions, the data analysis, cost analysis, and defining the scope of the transformation.
But at the crux of this particular conversation — the conversation that changed everything for me — the leaders were being asked to weigh-in on a decision that would impact them both professionally and personally.
They were torn between making a decision that could result in them either losing their job or having to uproot their families and employees. There was arguing, tears, anguish, strife and ultimately a stale-mate.
They simply could not reach a consensus on the future.
The Aha Moment That Changed Everything
This is when I had one of the biggest aha’s! of my entire career. We had spent so much of our time focusing on the process that we had not created space for people to talk about how this massive transformation would actually impact them.
We were re-engineering processes, identifying desired outcomes, and collecting data, but nowhere had anyone done the “dangerous” thing – of asking how people felt – either as individuals or as a group. They were being asked to “check their personal baggage at the door” and yet have a conversation that had a radical impact on them and their teams personally.
They were being asked to transform everything about their professional landscape, including their job functions, their rank in the organization AND where they would be living – and we’d never asked the question about how it would impact them personally!
Probably not too unlike being a project manager and one day being told you’re now an agile coach, moving from managing tasks to leading change.
And oh by the way, you’re in charge of figuring out what that really means.
Or executives that are told to be agile but also meet the quarterly financial returns. And they get lost in what feels like a dichotomy of figuring out how exactly to be agile and meet unrealistic goals.
It can be a complete identity change.
My Career Changed By Talking About the Scary Things!
This experience with this executive team haunted me. It has become my origin story — the basis for everything I have devoted my career to for the last 25 years. I had seen in no uncertain terms the limits of relying on process-focused conversations. And time after time since then, I’ve seen that it’s the things people feel like they can’t talk about that become the roadblocks.
In this team, it was a strictly business and numbers conversation that was not giving space for the personal impact conversation that held them back from making a final decision.
How to Overcome the Roadblocks
I have also worked with a team where the leader would pull people aside after meetings to give them feedback about needing to have better-informed answers in the next meeting. And he was not the least bit curious about what might be the reason the person did not have a solid answer in the first place.
And then there was the department that continues to re-org in an effort to improve performance but does not talk about what’s really impacting performance in the first place.
Just think for a moment, where might you be experiencing a scenario where there is something in the conversation that is not okay for you to talk about. You might even make a note as we go through today about where familiarity comes up for you. These are places I would invite you to come back to and think about — these are the places where there are roadblocks, and this is where to start overcoming the roadblocks.
These kinds of roadblocks come up when there is a tendency to defend our assumptions and perspectives. To assume we’re right. And to either not ask questions of what other people think, or to not share our perspective when we think the other person doesn’t want to hear it.
This I Know To Be True About Making Important Decisions as a Team
For me, I vowed at that moment that anytime I led change in the future it would be from the perspective of helping people talk about the things they didn’t think they could talk about or were scared to bring into the room.
And these two things I know now to be true:
- Change cannot happen until people feel seen and heard
- What you resist persists.
How hard is it for you to talk about the things that scare you? Are you allowing your team to bring scary things into the room?
All along, it might have been you who is limiting your team’s ability to make important decisions!
Are you ready to make a change?