I was talking to a manager recently in a large mining company. Like many of us he was constantly stretched for time and sometimes frustrated with how long decisions in meetings were taking with his team. Whilst he wanted to promote collaboration and robust discussion, he experienced people going off on tangents and disagreeing with ideas for action that had been put on the table.
When I asked him how this was impacting he said;
“Decisions get delayed because they then don’t get made in that meeting and often carry over to future meetings. This means we are not addressing issues and challenges fast enough. We are slow to execute on many priorities and I’m not the only one in the team worried about this”.
You may have experienced slow decision making yourself or even situations where a decision is made and then reversed or not actioned outside the meeting, all because someone wasn’t on board with supporting it in the first place. So how can you ensure this doesn’t happen?
With the mining manager I told him about a practical tool that might help. It is a tool I’ve seen used to improve decision making speed and commitment in teams at all levels including executive teams. I first came across it through 5 dysfunctions of a team author Patrick Lencioni and it’s called the fist of five. It’s amazingly simple in its application but extremely effective. An executive team I know started using it and they reckon it has made a noticeable difference to their productivity levels not only in meetings but fostered greater shared commitment to decisions which has saved them time not having to revisit issues and go back over old ground.
Here’s what I shared with the mining manager about how the fist of five works to make meetings more productive
- The person who is chairing the meeting goes around the room to seek different points of view on an issue/challenge or opportunity (including directly asking more introverted people by name for their opinion to ensure they have a chance to speak)
- Once people’s opinions are on the table, the chair seeks further clarification around an idea if necessary.
- The chair then summarises what’s been said and proposes a course of action (at this point there does not need to be consensus from everyone that this is their preferred course of action).
- The chair then asks for a show of ‘fist of five’ to see what level of support there is for the proposed course of action.
- The fist of five works like this. People around the table hold up their hand simultaneously with between 0 and 5 fingers up. The number of fingers held up is represented as follows:
5 = Fantastic idea, lets make it happen
4 = Like the idea, have some questions about how we will implement but I’m on board
3 = Not my first choice course of action but I can live with it and will support it
2 = I have some concerns and might struggle to support the idea until these are addressed
1 = I have major concerns and will definitely not support the idea as it is
0 = I think the idea is terrible
- With people holding up between 3-5 fingers Chair can announce decision is made and people move on. The 2 key steps here are that everyone has had a chance to input their opinion and that whilst people may express concerns or champion other courses of action when push comes to shove they will still support an idea they might not see as the perfect solution. If 0-2 fingers are held up the Chair needs to explore the concerns the people have and either work through them or if they can’t propose an alternative course of action to the group to solve the issue.
The mining manager now uses the fits of five regularly with his team and has reported back it is helping with more efficient and effective decision making. He liked the benefits of this technique so much he introduced it to his boss a General Manager who has also adopted it and is using it in his team!
The success of the outlined 6 steps above is based on an understanding of how brains work. If people have the chance to be heard and their opinion valued, they will often support ideas that are not their own or their first choice. This is because when we don’t feel heard or our opinion valued this can trigger the amygdala (the part of brain that drives our flight or fight response). If the amygdala is triggered we can subconsciously be driven to resist what is being said by others. So no matter how logical the argument by someone else, the amygdala may drive us to say No!
The flip side is if people feel their thought or idea is acknowledged the pre-frontal cortex will enable a more rational and less emotional response in the moment. This is key not only in getting commitment to decisions but also in increasing engagement levels in the team and leads to higher levels of personal accountability. I highly recommend giving the fist of five a try.