Everyone knows why it won’t work

Imagine a world where you could ban the phrase “I told you so”. This insight is aimed at giving you an overview of a facilitation tool you can use in your business to make that world a reality.

Let firstly give you a simple scenario.

Your business is very busy and your staff are working hard but not keeping up with the demands on them. There is a proposal that you should take on another member of staff to join the team. Dave positively believes that this must happen right now. Mary however believes you should not expand the team at this time.

What is the outcome? Will you recruit? Who will win this discussion? Typically, it will be whoever holds the most senior rank.

There is however a better way and that is the purpose of this insight.

Before we start on the solution let me add an important observation. Although Dave is in the ‘go for it’ camp, he also has some reservations about adding a new colleague. Will Dave choose to share his concerns? Probably not, because showing why you shouldn’t recruit at this time will just give more strength to Mary’s argument against this strategic addition. Exposing his soft underbelly to his challenger. Equally, Mary probably has some thoughts that would support Dave’s argument and she won’t be sharing them either. A decision-making stalemate!

The alternative method for problem solving and decision making involves getting Dave and Mary to work together. To point the boat in the same direction as they work together to get across the river.

Assign the role of facilitator – This process is better facilitated than it just being between Dave and Mary in the room. If you don’t have a coach (but why wouldn’t you have a coach), pull in someone who is unconnected to this discussion whose job it will be to keep you on track. A critical friend or fellow business owner.

Include all the stakeholders – Yes, in our scenario this was a discussion between Dave and Mary. However, when you use this tool, I recommend you include a wider group of stakeholders from within your organisation. Include a selection of people that will be impacted by the outcome of the decision.

Ensure there is clarity of the problem – Write down at the top of your whiteboard what the problem is you are looking to address. In this case “Should we add a new member to the team at this time?”

Plan the list headings and order – I recommend that the first heading question is always positive. What’s right with the proposal? From there you want to introduce other relevant question headings for your topic. Let’s think about the scenario again, which leads me to the following list.

  1. Why we should hire someone new today?
  2. What is the risk and impact if we recruit?
  3. What is the risk and impact if we don’t recruit?
  4. What are the costs to the business of this recruitment?
  5. What opportunities are made available to us because of our growing team?

One thought at a time – The meeting facilitator will explain the ‘rules’ of engagement. Everyone gets to speak and is expected to contribute where they can. The first topic will be the number 1 item from the planned list, in this case a positive view of why you should recruit a new team member. As the room discusses the benefits get these written up on the board. When I facilitate, I like to go around the room ensuring that everyone gets an even chance to contribute before it gets tougher to think of unique points. Continue this topic until it is exhausted by everyone. Even Mary who believes this is not the way the company should progress, will have something to add on this positive list when she sees everyone else contributing. The facilitator will actively dissuade discussion around anything but the heading being discussed.

Switch heading – After about 10-15 minutes you should have explored and filled the column and be ready for the next one. Again, the facilitator will ensure that this ‘switch’ is very clear so everyone in the room can start thinking and sharing their views on the impact of recruiting a new member of staff. Continue this topic until you have captured everyone’s thoughts not allowing discussion to wander to the other topics. The facilitator will work through switching headings until you have covered them all. To conclude this section, allow the room a free hand to add anything they think was missed off any of the headings.

At this stage on the board you have every reason the proposal to recruit is a great one but also every reason it’s the worst thing you could do today. Importantly here, the stakeholders in the room can see the facts laid out in front of them.

With the balance of facts collected, you still need to make the decision but it should be much clearer which route you should take and logic should override emotion, but that’s only half of the magic that this process will bring you. Start by making the decision.

If you choose not to recruit, how will you keep up with the existing work demands? Hiring in some augmented short-term freelance labour resources to bolster your existing team perhaps?

If you choose to recruit, how will you mitigate the risks outlined? How will you take advantage of the new opportunities so your newest recruit is not just a cost?

Back to the heading for this insight, ‘Everyone knows why it won’t work’. It’s just that we don’t ask people in a way that makes it safe for them to share their opinions. Get their views into the open early and acknowledge their concerns. It could save you from making costly mistakes and enhance your chances of success.

As a facilitator and coach, I really value this tool. It helps to get your team onboard with the thinking process that leads to effective decision making. It also helps leaders understand when they should not use passion to push through ill-conceived rubbish ideas!

Using the tool – Here is a step-by-step bullet pointed list to the above guide to this facilitation tool.

  • Engage a facilitator who is not connected to the challenge you are addressing.
  • Get commitment from the stakeholders to this process.
  • Make sure the question you are asking of the group is clear.
  • Plan the list of headings to discuss, starting with the most positive one.
  • Work through the list of headings in order, allowing everyone to contribute.
  • Make your decision based on the facts you have collected and explain your logic to the stakeholders.
  • Work through mitigation of the risks you have created from the decision you have made.

About 15 years ago I was introduced to a theory from Edward De Bono written in 1985 called Six Thinking Hats. My model is similar, but where his model requires a high level of consciousness and capability of the participants to separate Emotion, Information, Logic, Hope and Creativity, my model is about asking specific questions. As such, it’s much easier to engage the stakeholders even if it means that the facilitator needs to think a little more about phrasing the questions before the commencement of the meeting.

There is another theory worth mentioning at the end of this article which is 4-Helpful Lists from Tom Paterson (the father of the StratOp process). The 4-Helpful Lists model asks what’s working, what’s not working, what’s confused and what’s missing. This theory works well when you are trying to review an existing process, but less well when you are considering a bigger future based decision for you and your business.

If you would like some further help, I would be pleased to spend 30 minutes with you to show you how this simple tool can revolutionise decision making in your organisation. Click this LINK and book in a time that suits your availability.