You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

You’re in a meeting, discussing an important initiative and making decisions based on objectives, options, facts and opinions. How much time do you—or should you—spend on making consequential decisions or, more importantly, on discussing the various options and the pros, cons and potential consequences of each option before making a final decision?

For several years, I’ve been asking one question before making a final decision on important matters. This question doesn’t necessarily speed up the decision process, but it generally guarantees a better decision and often saves time, money and heartache in the long term.

I came up with this question after working on a team that spent very little time discussing options, decisions, or consequences. The team leader had a mantra: “We can always unwind any decision, so let’s not waste too much time deliberating.” This led to some very bad decisions, a lot of time implementing a poor decision, then realizing the folly and spending more time unwinding that decision and doing the new thing. It also led to burnout and high turnover. A philosophy that was intended to streamline decision-making and save time actually led to the opposite.

Very often, a few more minutes (or hours for the really big decisions) spent in deeper discussion about options, pros and cons and potential consequences of these options would have saved enormous amounts of time and money, as well as wear and tear on the people having to carry out the decision, stop and reverse work on the previous decision, and then implement the revised one. It was a soul-crushing waste of time, money and human talent. I vowed to never do that.

The question I use? “What could possibly go wrong (if we choose this option)?” This question has worked well, because it addresses some of the problems in group decision-making:

  • People have to think differently—they have to go beyond thinking about what good things will result from making the decision a certain way to what the potential downsides, or unintended consequences of this option/decision may be.
  • Everyone needs to think about the pros and cons; even the person whose idea it is has to think about potential downsides.
  • It gets everyone participating in considering options and consequences, which helps the entire team understand the decision, which generally helps with buy-in to that decision and implementation.
  • There is often someone in the room that is not behind the conclusion/decision the team is reaching, and this gives them the permission and the stage, to mention the downsides they see. Often they point out something no one else considered.
  • Very often, when one team member mentions something that might go wrong, another team member chimes in that they know either how to prevent that problem from occurring or how to fix the issue if it does arise.

Using this question takes some courage if you’re the leader, because you’re inviting people into the decision-making process in a new way, which includes challenging your ideas. However, it often makes the overall team more powerful—and engaged. It may also take a bit more time to reach conclusion on the decision—but it generally results in a better decision and a smoother implementation, because you’ve really covered the issues and had a healthy sharing of facts and opinions.

Here’s to better, more effective decision-making!

Next Story