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Team Decision Making

How a team reaches agreement and commits to the agreement is an area of serious struggle for most teams. The common approach for working teams is to elect or appoint a leader who will try to guide their team's discussions to reach team consensus. Most High Performance teams shun this traditional model as potentially manipulative and detrimental to the building of trust that is so necessary for strengthening a High Performance Team. Since Americans come from democratic roots, it's natural for a team to want to set a standard of unanimous agreement--an ideal state that is difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve. Often the seemingly simple prospect of getting the whole team to agree to the time and place of the next meeting can turn out to be a virtual impossibility.

High Performance Teams are working under a deadline. The pressure to reach agreement and get started is enormous. As an alternative to unanimous agreement, some teams evolve to the majority rules model: A decision is called for, hands are raised in support and counted, and if more than half the total present agree, the decision is made and everyone is expected to support it. But as human beings we are both intellectual and instinctive. One or more team members may feel that a decision is wrong or will be ineffective but cannot articulate why they have reservations. Others may feel that the decision being agreed to might be right for the group as a whole but not right for them or the area of the organization or process that they represent. Still others may not fully understand what is being agreed to by the team as a whole.

When a team is not in full agreement on a decision or direction, or one or more of the team members disagrees, it is unrealistic to expect that those team members will adequately support the decision. People cannot execute decisions and plans they do not understand, and when they disagree with the majority direction they will be looking for the first opportunity to resurrect the decision for reconsideration. High Performance Team members understand this phenomenon and work together to test each other's support and understanding. While each team will have to find its own way to effective team decision making, one of the best models for testing for understanding and support is "thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways." Thumbs up means I agree and fully support the decision. Thumbs sideways, means I have one or more reservations, but I can't think of anything better, and will support the decision. Thumbs down, means I don't or can't support the decision. Any thumbs down means further discussion is needed to understand the reasons for the thumbs down vote and to work some more on making the decision acceptable to all.

Then there is the issue of absentee team members. Ideally all team members are present when important decisions are being made. Even with careful advance agreement on meeting times and locations, emergencies, both business and personal, do arise. Since the support of all team members is critical to a team's success, High Performance teams will have to find ways to include absent members in the decision making process and gain their understanding and support.

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