Decisions, decisions.

My last blog post stirred up a few questions from readers. People wanted to know what specific loops of behaviour were more or less effective. Over the next few weeks I'll unfold some of the more common ones.

The group sat around their morning camp fire. Debate raged back and forth about which way was the best way to go. They were partway through a 200km survival walk. Fatigue and hunger were beginning to play a part. Over the past days, the group had worked out that wasting effort took a toll on their energy and motivation. This morning's debate was about the most efficient route to take to their next check point. They had two clear options and opinion was divided about which was best.

It's a classic ineffective decision making loop. Just when a decision seemed to be made, the alternative was re opened for exploration. The decision making process dragged on and on. Neither party had enough information to mount a definitive case. By the time the group had settled on a decision, the day was heating up. They ended up walking through the heat, taxing their energy even further. The discussion had used up the cool of the day - the ideal time for action.

By the end of the walk, the group was operating as two fractured sub groups. They were making decisions by default, and sometimes taking action without even being clear about what they were doing, or why. The more decisions they made, the less decisive they became. People began second guessing themselves, and some pulled back from the process entirely.

They definitely did it tougher than they needed to.

By contrast groups that have effective decision making loops show these attributes.

  • Explicit discussions about how they will make decisions, and resolve differing perspectives. They revisit these discussions often to ensure their process is working.
  • Clear priorities. For example, taking action while it was cool always beat discussion at that time of day.
  • Listening, openness and curiosity. They had ways to hear the quieter participants. Rather than just arguing they were keen to know what others were thinking and why.
  • Deciding in advance. If the plan was to walk at first light, all decisions were made the night before, enabling action as soon as there was enough light.
  • Reviewing decisions on the fly. In any situation, as you move forward, you get more information. Some of that sheds new light on your decisions, and may even mean they have to be changed. Rather that regretting the old decision, they simply made a new one and moved on.
  • Group commitment. This is perhaps most important of all. Once decisions were made, the whole group committed to executing it. Whether they ultimately agree or not, effective groups take action together.