By Suzanne Bates, CEO

A CEO, recently tapped to lead a global technology organization, had been a member of the senior leadership team for seven years before his promotion.  He had earned the respect and admiration of his peers. Having had a year to prepare for the new role had afforded him time to consider how he wanted the team to operate differently. The previous CEO had been the final arbiter on decisions large and small.  He wanted his team to become enterprise thinkers who could make good decisions together.

Our ideas of good leadership are changing and new leaders want to empower their teams to do more of the decision making. This means working through issues, identifying obstacles, agreeing on shared goals and deciding which option is best. As any team leader knows, it takes more than hope to get a team to take ownership of the decision process.  They need to learn new ways of working together and practice in real time. 

Whether you’re leading a new team, or you’d like your current team to be more autonomous, it’s worth investing the time it will take to get them there.  A group of seasoned, experienced professionals is more valuable when you get them to collaborate and make decisions together. You want them to surface and solve issues and make recommendations or give you options.  This creates alignment and generates energy on a team.  It also frees you to do more of what only you can do.   

Be clear about who decides

This is not to say you shouldn’t always be in the middle of important team decision making.  Clarifying who has the “D” in your meetings is important.  Let people know whether you’re looking for them to generate options and make the call, or whether you’re making the call with their input.  That is intentional leadership.  Keep in mind that your goal is not to get to consensus, but rather, to make the best decision with the information available. Even if all do not agree, following good decision process will ensure people are aligned on the actions when you walk out the door.  

Help your team expand their enterprise perspective

You may find you need to help your team learn to think at the enterprise level.  Help them think of themselves as more than function or business heads. Guide them to identify the enterprise problem to be solved, so they focus their energies productively. Once this is done, they can establish shared goals, surface issues and generate options that lead to good decisions.   

Teams that have operated under a more hierarchical style of leadership typically haven’t exercised these muscles.  They have been rewarded in the past for coming to the leader when they need a decision to be made.  As effective managers of their own business or function, they’ve been evaluated mostly on the results they get with their own teams.  To transition a team to enterprise work, establish new protocols for what you’ll work on together and how you’ll debate and arrive at decisions.

Our research shows that when the leader models certain leader behaviors it accelerates the process.  Through review of trends in our assessment data we’ve learned qualities of executive presence such as humility (knowing you don’t have all the answers, encouraging others to express theirs), assertiveness (setting the expectation your team should put different viewpoints on the table, being willing yourself to discuss anything) and intentionality (clarifying the intent, outcome and who owns the decision) lead to teams developing more autonomy and confidence in their decision making.  This in turn and frees you up to do what only you can do.

3 ways to develop your team’s decision-making abilities

Developing these qualities in your team should be a high priority because it’s going to help you get things done. Whether you are working with a new team or just want your current team to function more effectively, now is the time to set the plan in motion.  It may be helpful to invite in outside facilitation to move the team through the process quickly.  Great facilitation will enable them to work through issues, establish their own protocols and best practices.   

Here are three approaches that have helped our clients do this effectively:

  1. Identify an issue where there may be conflict. Put it on the agenda.  Share your points of view.  As the leader, make it clear it is not only safe, but desirable, to disagree.  Use facilitation to guide the process so you reach shared goals, create options together, and get to recommendations.  Practicing this enables the team to gain confidence working together on difficult issues and developing true alignment.
  2. Provide the team with accurate assessment in their strengths and gaps. Most leadership teams don’t give much thought to how other members of the team perceive them, and the impact this has on their ability to work together.  We employ the Bates ExPI™ Assessment to provide insights in 15 qualities of leadership presence and influence.  Accurate data on perceptions of behaviors generates powerful discussion about how to work together effectively.      
  3. Establish protocols for productive communication and decision making. These practices could include items such as “speak up if you disagree”, or “assume good intent”. A facilitator can help your team get specific in shared agreement about how they want to operate together for maximum productivity and effectiveness.   

Want to read more about how to help your team work together effectively and make good decisions? click here


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