Teams reason better

Teams collaborate better than individuals on a wide range of problem-solving for two reason:

  • People are exposed to points of view different from their own. If the arguments are good enough, people can change their mind to adopt better beliefs. This requires structure, such as “Yes…but…and
  • The back-and-forth of a conversation allows people to address counterarguments, and thus to refine their arguments, making it more likely that the best argument carries the day.

Both of these work to reduce bias and subjectivity.

Principles of Team Collaboration

There are a few principles to make this team collaboration work.

  • Clear purpose: What is the reason for the collaboration? What’s the business case or business need? Without alignment on the purpose and its underlying importance to the organization, the collaboration will fail. The scope will start to change, or other priorities will take precedence. 
  • Clear process: How will the collaboration take place? What are the steps? What is the timing? Who is responsible for what?
  • Clear expectations: What is the specific goal or outcome we are striving for through this collaboration? 
  • Clear supportProblems will arise that the team cannot handle on their own. In those cases, what is the escalation process, including who and when? 

Ensure these are in your team ground rules, measure success and perform continuous improvement.

Indirect Accountability

The kind of accountability most of us are familiar with is direct accountability: a role is assigned a task and is directly accountable for their result. The role understands the quality, quantity, timeframe, and resource constraints of the deliverable and has the authority to implement plans to achieve it. When completing a RACI this is what we mean by accountability.

Ideally, the individual with direct accountability has the context to understand the limits in which they must work and sufficient knowledge about all of the factors that must be considered to make good decisions. However, that’s not always the case, and for this reason, organizations need to establish lateral roles of indirect accountability to ensure these factors are brought to the attention of the role with direct accountability.

Indirect roles are responsible for initiating action toward directly accountable roles. Indirect roles may be responsible for:

  • Informing: being aware of the factors surrounding the direct and initiating contact to offer advice and recommendations.
  • Persuading: persuading the direct to adjust their actions when there is a risk of undermining process control or when multiple roles fail to work together effectively.
  • Instructing: ordering the direct to stop when working outside of limits and/or take prescribed action to mitigate a catastrophic event.
  • Responding: Provide the direct service and support

Often these indirects are accountable in a supporting process.

Who-What Matrix

Effective organizations assign people to particular roles, such as Process Owners, to solve problems better and make choices faster. Yet, it is frighteningly easy it is to exclude the right people in problem-solving. Who plays what role is not always clear in organizations. In organizations where specialized knowledge and expertise are distributed widely the different parts of an organization can see different problems in the same situation. Ensuring that the right people are at the whiteboard to solve the problem.

The Who-What Matrix is a great tool to ensure the right people are involved.

By including a wider set of people, the Who-What Matrix assists in creating trust, commitment, and a sense of procedural justice, and thus, enhance the likelihood of success. The matrix can also integrate people across functions, hierarchy, business units, locations, and partner organizations.

Once the need to problem-solve is identified, the matrix can be used to determine what people and organizations should be involved in which roles in problem-solving and whose interests should betaken into account in the deliberations. Players may provide input (information, ideas, resources); be part of the solving process(formulating problem, gathering data, doing analyses, generating solution options, supporting the work), be among those making choices or executing them. Considering the interests of all players during problem-solving can lead to better choices and outcomes.

The aim is to use the framework’s categories to think broadly but be selective in deciding which players play what role. A lengthy collection of players can be so overwhelming as to lead to neglect. The same player can play more than one role, and roles played can change over time. Players can come and go as problem-solving proceeds and circumstances change.

By deliberately bringing people into problem-solving, we are showing how to give people a meaningful role in the learning culture.

Who-What Matrix

The roles breakdown as:

  • Input: Provide input, provide data gathering, data sources
  • Recommend: Evaluate problem, recommend solutions and path forward
  • Decide: Make the final decision and commit the organization to action
  • Perform: Be accountable for making the decision happen once made
  • Agree: Formally approve a decision, implies veto power
  • Outcome: Accountable for the outcome of problem solving, results over time

Democratic Leadership Style

A building block of Quality culture is learning how to make decisions faster without impairing their quality. We do this by ensuring availability of the right knowledge so that the appropriate measures can be decided on and making the decision-making processes quicker.

Adopting a flexible but consistent approach to decision-making and giving people greater leeway creates the organizational framework for faster decision-making processes. In addition to creating the right framework, however, it is equally important for employees to have confidence in each other so that decisions are not only taken quickly but also implemented swiftly. Rather than merely seeing employees as resources, this requires management to value them as part of the community because of the competencies that they bring to the table. The underlying capability that makes this possible is a democratic leadership style.

Democratic leadership is a style where decision-making is decentralized and shared by all. This style of leadership proposes that decision-making should be shared by the leader and the group where criticisms and praises are objectively given and a feeling of responsibility is developed within the group. Leaders engage in dialogue that offers others the opportunity to use their initiative and make contributions. Once decisions are collectively taken, people are sure of what to do and how to do it with support from leaders to accomplish tasks successfully. It is the “Yes…but…and” style of leadership.

This style requires a high degree of effort in building organizational decision-making capabilities. You need to build a culture that ensures that everyone has an equal interest in an outcome and shared levels of expertise relative to decisions. But nothing provides better motivated employees.

For those keeping track on the leadership style bingo card, this requires mashing democratic and transformational leaders together (with a hefty flavoring of servant leadership). Just the democratic style is not enough, you need a few more aspects of a transformational leader to make it work.

Characteristics of a Democratic Leader

Idealized Influence means being the role model and being seen to be accountable to the culture. Part of this is doing Gemba walks as part of your standard work.

Inspirational Motivation means inspiring confidence, motivation and a sense of purpose. The leader must articulate a clear vision for the future, communicate expectations of the group and demonstrate a commitment to the goals that have been decided upon.

Through Intellectual Stimulation, the leader presents to the organization a number of challenging new ideas that are supposed to stimulate rethinking of new ways of doing things in the organization, thus seeking ideas, opinions and inputs from others to promote creativity, innovation and experimentation of new methods to replace the old ways. The leader articulates True North.

Decentralized decision-making around these new ways of doing are shared by all. Decisions are taken by both the leader and the group where criticisms and praises are objectively given and a feeling of responsibility is developed within the group, thus granting everyone the opportunity to use their initiative and make contributions. Decentralized decision-making ensures everyone empowered to take actions and are responsible for the implementation and effectiveness of these actions. This will drive adaptation and bring accountability.

Reading list

  • Arenas, F.J., Connelly, D.A. and Williams, M.D. (2018), Developing Your Full Range of Leadership, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB
  • Gastil, J. (1994), “A definition and illustration of democratic leadership”, Human Relations, Vol. 47 No. 8,pp. 953-975
  • Hayes, A.F. (2018), Introduction to Mediation, Moderation and Conditional Process Analysis, 2nd ed.,The Guilford Press, New York, N

Brainstorming usually sinks your ship

If you work in teams, chances are you use brainstorming, gathering face-to-face in groups so that everyone can share ideas. This technique has been around since the late 1930s and many in quality and excellence pursuits view it as an effective technique.

Unfortunately, the science I’ve read is not quite in agreement. A group of four people typically generates approximately half as many ideas as a nominal group of four does. Production blocking, and a few other problems, lead to some key deficiencies in brainstorming:

  •  When group members are waiting for turn-taking, there are high chances that they may forget the ideas that they had in mind, they may focus on remembering those ideas rather than listening, or they may decide their ideas are no longer relevant.
  • The competing demand for coming up with one’s own idea and listening to other’s ideas makes it difficult to build on the ideas of others.
  • As the size of the group increases, the participants might feel less identifiable or accountable which might lead to decreased social loafing or level of motivation.

Overcoming production blocking requires the use of additional tools, such as brainwriting. Brainwriting encompasses the sharing of ideas through pieces of paper – usually having people write their ideas out on post-it notes for example. This technique makes brainstorming effective by overcoming the problem of verbal brainstorming. Though their seems to be some worry here about social cues kicking in, and there may be more benefit in having folks write all their ideas on one piece of paper, or better yet on their own before the meeting.

Brain writing, to be truly effective, requires solid collaborative evaluation process to follow the idea generation phase this is the foundation of decision quality. The research seems to indicate we see results better than the norm with this combination.

This appears to be an area where more research is needed to examine different variations , the boundary conditions for demonstrating the superiority of brainwriting over nominal groups, the optimum size of the group, and the potential of mixing verbal and nonverbal brainstorming. If anyone knows of good studies in this area, please point me to them.

References

  • Coskun, H. (2005). Cognitive stimulation with convergent and divergent thinking exercises in brainwriting: Incubation, sequence priming, and group context. Small Group Research, 36, 466-498. doi:10.1177/1046496405276475
  • Cragan, J. F., Wright, D. W., & Kasch, C. R. (2009). Communication in small groups : theory, process, skills. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning – Academic and Professional Group.
  • West, M. A. (2012). Effective teamwork : practical lessons from organizational research. Wiley-Blackwell.