You may have been on a team that never seems to close a discussion. I know I have. In fact, I have seen a decision made at a team meeting, then one of my colleagues re-opened the debate with a couple of us at the coffee pot within minutes after we adjourned. It was a surprise—and not a welcome one.
If you are stuck on a team suffering from analysis paralysis, I bet you are as frustrated as I was. But you’re not helpless. There are ways you can help your team members break free and move forward.
Concede to not requiring consensus
Ensure that your team doesn’t think that consensus is required for every decision. Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, warns against thinking commitment requires consensus. Consensus should be reserved for only those very few, very impactful decisions. Most teams that strive for consensus end up compromising, leaving everyone unhappy and expending a lot of energy in the process. As a team member, you can ask to have a discussion about decision making and help create ground rules for your team that delineate when consensus is required—and when it’s not.
Seek to develop buy-in and clarity for decisions
Clarity and buy-in are the key elements of team commitment. That means that team members support group decisions even if they initially disagree, and are clear about specific directions and priorities. As a team member, you can ask for clarification before you leave meetings and/or use team meeting notes to document decisions. You may also be able to “call the question” as a team member during discussions to quickly have every person in the room verbalize their commitment to a decision. Some teams use quick “thumbs up/thumbs down” check-ins before proceeding or some other physical sign of commitment. Do not assume that silence implies consent.
Set monitoring mechanisms into motion
Many people find it easier to start on a new policy, project or program if they know it’s a pilot and will be revisited in some way. Ask the leader if it’s acceptable to set a specific timeframe to review a decision. During that review, the team can discuss lessons learned: What worked well? What didn’t? Do we need to adjust? This approach is a great way to move past talking into doing while also employing time-tested continuous improvement thinking. Just make sure the leader is clear on how much impact the team’s review will have on the past decision. Teammates should understand what is in and out of scope so you aren’t constantly revisiting elements of decisions that you can no longer influence.
Step away from that ledge, my friend. Paralysis by analysis is not a lifelong sentence. As a team member, you can help create more comfort for your teammates in committing to decisions.