Solid suggestions to help make decisions in teams

An article in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 85, Nov. 2008 at 121, offers a number of techniques that will improve decision-making on law department teams or committees (See my post of Jan. 4, 2009: four ways to make decisions.). The author is Bob Frisch of the Strategic Offsites Group.

Articulate clearly what outcome the team seeks. This helps bring out assumptions by lawyers and establish common terminology. Often, members have different goals in mind.

Come up with a range of options that might achieve the goal. Few choices of law departments are binary, at least when it comes to managing the law department. More nuanced choices and mixing and matching can often result in better outcomes.

“Test fences and walls.” If team members say that something can’t be done because of a boundary or limitation, ask “whether it’s a wall, which can’t be moved, or a fence, which can.” Change always involves this question: do we face an immovable situation or policy or have we room to maneuver.

Surface preferences early and periodically. Straw votes early on may efficiently eliminate some choices that have too little support. Every now and then find out who sides with which solutions. If members vote with weighted preferences, where they allocate points among the choices, you can more efficiently analyze and narrow down the options.

State the pros and cons of each option. This may require appointing a team member to advocate for or against an option (See my post of Sept. 4, 2006: Devil’s Advocate; Jan. 10, 2006: this and other methods to stir up creativity; and April 5, 2007: diagnosis momentum.). One benefit of this step is that you are “breaking the false binary of a business case into several explicit and implicit alternatives,” which helps to depersonalize the discussion.

The article closes with a suggestion that the team deliberate confidentially, so that what plays in Vegas stays in Vegas. Second, grant the team enough time to adequately discuss and think about a significant decision.

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