If you are facilitating a team conversation, this exercise is really great to do after you’ve done some of the other exercises in this toolkit like , , and .
The goal of this exercise is to get the opinions of people who actually work on the team and to inform teammates about different rationales and beliefs.
The goal of having a team involved in the decision-making process is to take advantage of accessing multiple views, exploring a full range of approaches to the issues involved the decision, and gathering additional information. A team that’s functioning properly, after all, should be able to bring more to the decision process that any individual decision-maker.
Unfortunately, in practice, this frequently doesn’t occur, for several reasons.
1. The dynamics of teams naturally bend toward groupthink.
Members confirm each other’s beliefs. Once there is a sense that consensus is being reached, team members will (usually unintentionally) often refrain from sharing what’s in their head if it diverges from what the group thinks. Sometimes, this is because team members change their opinion without realizing it, forgetting that they ever disagreed.
The influence of senior team members or leaders tends to discourage the full expression of divergent perspectives. Agreeing with the views of leaders and others with experience is usually the safe choice in an organization. Implicitly, if not explicitly, being a team player means helping reach that consensus. It’s much more difficult, especially for junior team members or those with views that diverge from the group, to commit to fully expressing those views.
Even though each member of a group has the potential to gain more access to the outside view by tapping into the differing opinions that live in multiple heads, in practice teams usually end up with multiple heads expressing the same inside view.
2. Group meetings and collaborations can waste time focusing on areas of agreement.
Even when the process allows and encourages dispersion of views, teams tend to spend a lot of time on the areas where they agree, and stating their agreement. The most interesting part of the process - and the most fruitful - should be on the areas where the views don’t align.
3. When there is disagreement, the goal becomes for team members to convince others.
When teams actually start achieving their purpose and exposing those areas of disagreement, members tend to try convincing each other about their views, either to seek confirmation of their position from others or to convert those with contrary positions.
Assign pre-work to your team (have them do , , and other exercises in this toolkit). Define the feedback you are seeking and solicit this feedback in advance of the meeting. Examples include: Premortems/backcasts (see ) Forecasts (e.g. “when is the feature going to ship?”) Ratings (e.g. impact of feature X) Rationales (e.g. define “impact”) Elicit feedback independently, so each member of the team can offer their point of view without knowing whether they are disagreeing with the majority or more senior or influential members. Sort feedback into areas of agreement and dispersion and quickly show areas where people agree. Spend a majority of time on areas of dispersion and for people to give a rationale for what they believe. The goal is to convey, not convince. Finally, the goal of the team discussion should not be to reach agreement or, for that matter, to end by making a decision. The goal should be to give the decision-maker the full benefit of everything that all the individuals on the team have to offer. The organization should emphasize that the “success” of individual team members in this process is defined by how much they contribute to providing their ideas, opinions, approaches, rationales, and information - and not by contributing to a consensus or taking positions that are consistent with whatever decision eventually results. 2
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