By Joey Francisco
Teams that make and execute decisions typically develop better team discernment. When we drive an ethos of intentional decision-making, our focus is dialed in. Concrete details become more important than idle discussion. Trust becomes necessary, petty arguments and disagreements become a waste of time.
What disrupts good decision-making on a team, and what causes this to break down?
#1. WAITING FOR THE PERFECT PLAN
Some teams will prolong decisions in order to develop a perfect plan. The main issue with this is inactivity. Teams often get stuck on problems, talking about them ad nauseam. Leaders become frustrated hearing about the same issue over and over. Trust degrades as disagreement abounds.
But leaders don’t always need a perfect plan. (In fact, the “perfect plan” is in the realm of God’s paygrade, not ours!) When we place the emphasis on making the wisest decision possible, we are not concerned with developing the perfect solution to every issue. In fact, resolutions are reached more easily when teams consistently make and execute decisions.
We need to make decisions week by week as time progresses rather than attempting to arrange a perfect plan from start to finish in a single sitting. It is better to make a series of small, wise decisions than to wait for the perfect plan. In dealing with problems and challenges, we are normally working with limited information and cannot necessarily identify the perfect plan. In fact, as we make a string of decisions, the situation gets clearer and clearer. Some leaders might interpret this as making a number of wrong decisions and one right decision. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to make the best decisions we can, one at a time, and often find progressive clarity as we move forward.
Read the following case study as a team.
Upon finishing the reading, set a timer for 10-15 minutes.
Attempt to make a decision that the whole team is okay with in the allotted time frame.
If you run out of time, stop the discussion and move on to the questions.
If you make your decision in less than the allotted time, have the following discussion:
What parts of our discussion allowed us to come to a decision efficiently?
Is this typical of the discussions we normally have about issues in our group? Do we normally take longer or find ourselves excessively critiquing ideas/strategies?
If you run out of time, have the following discussion:
Was there a part of the case study where you felt “stuck” as a team? What about that issue led you to spend extra time on it?
Did you feel tense during this discussion? What was causing tension?
Where were the main areas of disagreement? Do disagreements arise over similar issues when having discussions as a team about other areas?
Cassingham is a 21 year old guy in your group. He led a friend to Christ, and he mentors him weekly. He is not a leader, but teaches your men’s group regularly. He is a good influencer on others, and your team would like to see him teach more. However, his teachings for the men’s group are bad. Really bad. He seems unprepared and frazzled. He asks really confusing discussion questions. His interpretation is fine, but his delivery is poor.
A couple of your male leaders have given him feedback. But he has not taken the feedback well, responding defensively, even crying at one point! Bryan—one of your coleaders—mentors Cassingham, and Bryan helped him prepare his most recent teaching, which went substantially better. However, Bryan mentors three other guys, and leads in your group and in a high school Bible study. He doesn’t have time to work with Cassingham every time he teaches.
You need to figure out a way to help Cassingham improve as a teacher so he can teach your home church one day. What can you do to help?
#2. ABSTRACT CONCEPTS VS. CONCRETE ISSUES
Another issue that prolongs or frustrates decision-making is abstract issues. Some teams are more aggressive while others are risk averse. Whatever the case, we need to keep discussions primarily on concrete issues rather than abstract thoughts or the minutiae of ministry. There is of course a category for letting people talk and exploring things from multiple angles. However, if you begin to see a pattern of your team drifting into the same issues without much definitive action or progress, it’s possible that you are getting caught up in the abyss of the abstract! When we deal more in concrete details, decisions are easier to make.
EXERCISE: CRITIQUING ABSTRACT COMMENTS
Read each of the statements below, one at a time. For each statement, follow these prompts:
What makes this statement abstract? What’s the problem with it?
Generate a few questions to draw out concrete details from the abstract statement.
Remember that the problem isn’t that leaders make abstract statements – it is when the abstract statements dominate our discussion that we become unclear of what to do. So don’t come after these statements in an aggressive or insulting manner. Assume there is some validity, and ask questions to draw out the concrete issues.
He doesn’t have an influence with his roommates.
She’s depressed, so I don’t think I can talk to her about that issue.
He’s not getting anything out of his time with God.
Our group doesn’t care about serving at all.
The girls in our group are trying their hardest.
#3. FEAR OF FAILURE
Some teams will sit on their hands in fear of making incorrect decisions. This will cost you the ability to evaluate the results of a decision and gather more concrete information. When we can evaluate the results of a decision, we learn more and can gear up for the next decision. However, when we develop a fear of failure mentality, decision-making is prolonged.
To be clear, decisions do not need to be rushed, and certainly not haphazard. In addition to discussing concrete details, we can also explore relevant biblical passages, agree to pray deeply together for guidance, or seek out wise counsel as needed. Sometimes, seeking wise counsel is the decision. Instead of endlessly talking about an issue without any action, we are deciding to seek advice and then take the next step.
However, if we put off decisions out of fear of being wrong, we will never learn anything deeper about the situation we are dealing with. This involves taking a step of faith. Sometimes, we won’t know if something is a good decision until after we follow through on it. Remember Sergeant Lipton’s words on Lieutenant Dyke in the Band of Brothers series: “Dyke wasn’t a bad leader because he made bad decisions. He was a bad leader because he made no decisions.”
Answer the following questions. For the most part, this should be fun, and your team should be laughing together.
What is one of your top five biggest mistakes as a leader?
What were the results of this failure, and what did you learn from it?
If you had done nothing, how might this have affected the situation?
#4. DISCUSSION WITHOUT DECISION-MAKING
Driving decision-making also helps us develop a deadline mentality. Jazz musician Duke Ellington is quoted as having said, “I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.” Sometimes, this is the case when discussing what to do about a problem. There will be cases where we do need more time to think. Most of the time, however, we are better off making a decision in one form or another.
When leaders on a team are used to making proactive, intentional, and wise decisions together, they develop an atmosphere in which the best ideas win and people get on the same page more consistently. The urgency is raised and high-initiative tends to follow. It’s a shame when teams discuss an issue at length only to come away with nothing to do. One thing that can happen in this environment is that leaders begin to independently pull the group in different directions. This is likely because they sense a need for action, but there is no consensus on what should be done. This causes teams to lose vision, or to cease seeking input from one another. Problems persist and leaders begin to feel burned out. Communication on the team diminishes or proves ineffective.
Another symptom is what we might call tangential discussion. This is when teams spend more time discussing less relevant information about a given issue. Tangential discussion keeps us from talking about the issues, and instead, talking around them. Much of the time, when leaders talk about being problems-focused, I think this is what they mean. Teams that have this habit will merely circulate the periphery of an issue because they veered into irrelevant territory, never digging into the most important elements. Have you ever spent a substantial amount of time discussing an issue, and ended up more confused than you were from the beginning? This was likely caused by tangential discussion.
The ongoing discussions about these problems make us feel busy – but we are busy with the wrong things. Running on a treadmill has a number of health benefits. But if your objective is to jog from your house to the park, a treadmill is the wrong tool. Leadership teams are far less likely to get worn down by proactivity than they are by the frustration that accompanies inactivity.
At a certain point in a discussion, someone needs to ask, “So what are we going to do?” If no one has an answer, it’s time to make a decision or table this topic until things become clearer.
The script below represents a tangential discussion. Have two leaders on your team read both parts in the script. Have each leader take a turn gently drawing their coleaders back into relevant discussion. Take turns reading the script also. If they make it to the end of the script without being drawn back in (gently; if you’re forceful and brash – you lose), consider having a discussion about ways to keep each other on track.
Alternatively, you can just read the script and ask, “Where did this discussion veer off? At what point did the information become irrelevant? To get this discussion back on track – which statement should we zero in on?”
Leader 1: Jack started a huge argument with Cecil. Cecil is really upset.
Leader 2: I heard about this. Wasn’t it because Cecil used his bike without permission?
Leader 1: That’s how it started.
Leader 2: Why is that a big deal?
Leader 1: Jack was being kind of a jerk.
Leader 2: What was he saying?
Leader 1: I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Something about how Cecil is selfish.
Leader 2: Borrowing someone’s bike is not selfish.
Leader 1: I know. Jack is making too big a deal about it.
Leader 2: What did Cecil say when Jack called him selfish?
Leader 1: I don’t know. But Jack owes him an apology.
Leader 2: Big time.
DRAWBACKS TO DECISIVE LEADERSHIP TEAMS
There are many benefits to becoming a more decisive leadership team. Leaders’ meetings will be easier, and you will cover more in less time. Initiative tends to spike in decisive teams, which means that more gets done, and the team is more focused. The urgency to act on what is decided builds trust.
A potential drawback to a decisive team is people feeling unheard. People have varying processing speeds. It is important, therefore, while driving decisive leadership to keep communication clear and consistent. The last thing you want is lackluster execution of decisions because you couldn’t get on the same page with one another. The key is to agree to wise decisions as a team – not to rush everyone into a hasty half-brained idea.
This clarity of communication can help stave off another drawback: Lack of follow-through. We could make a plethora of decisions in a meeting, over email, over text – but this doesn’t guarantee that anything will happen. The need for leaders to hold each other accountable while still giving one another grace is a topic for another time. However, remember that decisions should be followed by evaluation. When there is a fair expectation that we will discuss how all of this went the next time we meet, follow-through is easier to achieve.
Leadership is also a dynamic process. Some leaders might be tempted to take the information in this paper and use it as a gavel to bang every five minutes in a leaders’ meeting, demanding order and decisions! As important as it is to be decisive, you will encounter situations in which the best decision might be holding off before executing a plan. The decision to pray and wait on God’s guidance is often the very decision that we need the most.
How do we utilize people who are more reflective while we are attempting to make decisions?
In what situations would it be wise to wait on making a decision? What would be some alternatives in these situations?