The Boss’ Decision

Reality Check: I was asked to help an management team overcome some conflicts and difficulties they were having. Some “people issues” is how they described it.  I went in, met the team, we talked about what I was doing, and then I interviewed the boss.  I said, “From your point of view what’s the problem with the team?”

She said, “My people will not participate.  They won’t give ideas, they won’t engage in any meaningful dialogue; they’re like lumps on a log.” 

As I interviewed the team members there seemed to be a broadly felt consensus that quote, “Our boss is manipulative, authoritarian and thinks we’re idiots.”

Learning Opportunity:

Well I tried to get specific examples and the team members shared with me that the first week the new boss came in they were all kind of excited and wondered how the new boss operated, and the boss called a meeting.  She said, “We have an important decision that must be made today regarding whether we follow option A or B.  I want you to prepare well, then let’s get together and hear what you come up with.”

Well the team studied it out and in great detail.  They prepared themselves, they talked to each other, and finally, they joined together in a long meeting and shared their conclusions and the reasons for those conclusions.  The team decided A was the best option.  The boss thanked them, adjourned the meeting and the next day announced they would be going with option B. 

I asked the team members, “So what did you think when the boss decided a different direction?”

One said, “She knew all along what she was gonna decide.  She was just manipulating us.”

Another said, “Oh that’s so weird, she asks us to decide then reverses our decision.  I think it’s a political message.

Another said, “If she was going to make the decision all along, why make us jump through these hoops?!”

When I spoke with the boss about her first decision, her first public decision with that team, I asked her what happened.

She said, “I wanted their input so I could make the very best decision, called them together, we discussed it, I thought about it, called some specialists, gathered some data, thought about it some more, and I decided B was the way to go rather than A, the option they’d recommended.”  So in this situation, the boss had decided that she would gather the team’s input, consider it carefully and make the best decision.  The team, on the other hand, assumed that it was a joint decision, that all of them together would decide.  And so, when the boss suddenly announced a different direction than the team had decided, they felt like they’d been undercut, they felt like she’d exerted her power. 

As a result, at future team meetings they refused to participate; they went to silence.  They were polite, they were cordial, but they wouldn’t talk about issues and they wouldn’t volunteer opinion because they felt they would be second guessed by their boss and that this was all a manipulation.  

In effective teams, most decisions are made by command of the specialist who has skills to address the problem.  Some decisions are made by consulting, getting input from others, and then having a subgroup or individual decide.  And a few decisions are of such importance that they escalate to consensus; everyone must agree.

I got a chance to meet with them six months later.  I asked them how it was going; they said that things were going great!  Are they using the decision making methodology I shared with them?  They said yes they were and it was working very well.  I asked if I could come sit in on a team meeting.  The leader said, “You’re sure welcome,” and the team members agreed. 

It was interesting, as they reviewed the agenda, the team leader said, “Alright, we’ve got a tough decision we’ve got to make and our client needs an answer by 10 o’clock.  She looked at her watch, it was now 8 o’clock.  She said, “I would prefer that this be a consensus decision and that we all agree on the way going forward. However if consensus has not been reached by 9:45, then I propose it’ll be a consult decision and I will decide.  Are we in agreement?”

The team members said, “Yeah, sounds good to us.”  And they began working on coming to consensus.   They enlarged the pool; they were very good at inviting others to share, and sharing their points of view.  I saw some wonderful examples of the use of the dialogue skills, and come 9:45, the team leader said, “Well, are we in agreement here?”

As she polled the different members she found they were not.  She said, “As we agreed up front, if we couldn’t reach a consensus decision by 9:45 then it would become a consult decision.  So here’s what I’ve decided.”  The team members agreed, began taking assignments and went out to support their part of the project. 

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