Enlightened Dictatorship

CreditThere is constant tension in management teams around using every team member’s opinions when making a decision.  I often run into managers who avoid this tension by making decisions without seriously considering team members’ input.  When I bring it up for discussion, I tend to hear lines like “You can’t run a business as a democracy”, or my all-time favorite, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee!”.  It seems many mangers confuse getting input before making a decision with needing consensus, and confuse teamwork with parity.  Perhaps not coincidentally, they end up getting to simply make the decision they wanted to make all along.  But things can go so much better if managers learn to leverage their teams.

Eric Farone, a fantastic improv & team coach, as well as all-around good guy, has a great post that addresses this called “Group Mind”, not “Group Think”.  “Group Think” is the result of the alleged committee that is so often maligned in business.  Admittedly, in business or in life, group think rarely results in a  good outcome (for examples of this see any word ending in “ism”).  “Group Mind”, on the other hand, takes inputs that are authentic and valued appropriately, and, when done right, results in a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It can be difficult for a manager to realize they are not truly using team member inputs.  Most managers think they are doing a good job, of course, and most employees are not too keen to clearly point out when that assumption is in error (and the employees who are willing to do that typically do it quite often, and therefore lose their power in the process).  So the system is inherently structured to hide problems such as this.  You can do 360 reviews, blind surveys, and a number of other formal techniques to try to ferret this out, but to be honest, I’ve rarely seen these practices effect lasting change.  Those methods are also time-consuming, not very pleasant and expensive in terms of manpower.  I think there is a much simpler and more accurate way to regularly “check in” to see if you are taking team input into decisions.

Ask yourself a simple question:  When was the last time I made a decision that was not originally my own idea?  Answering this question is easier if you bolster your thinking with a few specifics.  When was the last time I publicly acknowledged that a team member’s input directly influenced a decision?  When was the last time I told *my* boss that the credit for a decision really rested with my employee (realize I said CREDIT, not BLAME…)?  When was the last time that I learned something from a team member that changed my mind?

If you can’t think of specific answers to these questions, or the last time was many months ago or more, then no matter how great of a boss you think you are, you have a problem.  I’m sure you are very talented, and that’s why you’re the boss.  And as the boss, it is your job to make the final decision.  But nobody is successful over the long term when all of their decisions come from their own ideas only.  Start a journal and make yourself stare at it at *least* once a week to come up with specific answers for the above questions and write them down.  Eventually, knowing you will be doing this on Friday at 4pm (or whatever weekly time you choose) will cause you to start thinking about it during the week.  That awareness, when acted upon, is the key to a level of team success that your own talent can’t consistently achieve.  Remember what basketball great Michael Jordan said:  “Talent wins games, but teamwork & intelligence win championships”.

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