Ever have one of those problems you know your team could probably help you solve but you dread the endless meetings and circular discussions? Your team is diverse with unique skills that could generate great solutions but your general manager likes to talk, a lot, and your accountant is really shy and never says much more than good morning at the start of the day.
In a typical one hour meeting you present the problems then your GM talks for 20 minutes on ideas, and his experiences justifying those ideas. Your accountant quietly nods and doodles in her notebook and your most junior member tries to speak up but is not taken seriously, he might as well be talking to a wall. In the end you call for a follow-up meeting and everyone leaves exhausted with no real solution or plan of action.
However, the ramifications from that meeting go even deeper. Your junior member feels unappreciated and starts to wonder if the bare minimum is the best way to get by in your company and starts to abandon their excitement for their job. Your GM is frustrated that he just poured out all these ideas and starts to question your leadership. He wonders if he needs to start taking things into his own hands and start solving the problem his way. Meanwhile, the really shy accountant is just glad it’s over and slips further into her own insecurities. But the worse one is when your team takes on the impression that you’re just going to do what you want, and you called the meeting just to check the “I’m a team player” box.
Dang, meetings are lethal.
I Need Ideas Not Words – Together, Alone
The only thing that the meeting generated was a lot of words, confusion, and doubt. You need ideas not words and doubts. So why not remove the doubt by taking out the words.
So how are we supposed to communicate?
Let me explain. The “together, alone” principal, best put by the people over at AJ& Smart suggest that you come together as a team under a common goal, but you will work individually. So no verbal discussion or debating. This may sound counterintuitive but what you’ve done is level the playing field. A field where all ideas are seen, are anonymous, and considered equally, no bias.
The Decision Workshop
The decision workshop will utilize the “together, alone” principles to efficiently and effectively help you and your team isolate problems, generate solutions and take action in one meeting.
You’re going to need some basic equipment and a structure to make this happen.
- You’ll need a whiteboard, sharpies (fine point), post-it’s (stickies’) for everyone, and a big timer. Finally, you’ll need some round stickers (dots).
There are also some roles to play.
- The decision maker is the person who ultimately decides what to move forward with. They will have two supervotes or overrides they can use but only can be used in two specific steps.
- The facilitator will be the person that keeps everyone focused on the task at hand and keeps the workshop moving forward.
- The team should be the made up of the people that are the subject matter experts in your particular problem or opportunity space. Having said that it’s always good to have someone with an outside perspective but still somewhat familiar with the subject.
Note and Vote
If the whiteboard, sharpies and post-it’s didn’t give it away, your team is going to write down their ideas. The advantage is they will get to be alone with their own thoughts without outside influence from other team members. However, you are gathered together under a common goal, which will be the catalyst your team needs to help inspire the solutions you’re after. Now your team can start to generate solutions to your problem, one post-it at a time. This approach is also extremely useful for generating problems your team maybe having with a system in your service. Because of the anonymity of this strategy, your team will more likely be honest about what they feel the problems are in your company.
Now you have a collection of solutions or problems that have not been influenced, ignored, or because of the issues with open discussions, never offered up in the first place. Your team places all of their ideas randomly on the whiteboard. So how do you filter through all of them to find the best solutions or most pressing problems? You ask your team of course.
But wait, you said no discussion, won’t that reintroduce bias and endless debate on the best idea? Yes it will, that’s why you will be voting silently with those little round stickers. Before you do that, have everyone silently sort the post-it’s into categories or themes. Keep an eye on your team, and make sure neither you nor your team tries sort by priority. That comes later, and right now that would be introducing significant bias.
Give each team member about 10 stickers, more if there are a lot of ideas. Have your team go to the whiteboard with all your categorized post-its and add voting dots to their favorite ideas. They can vote on their own idea, and more than once on the same idea, but they must use all of their dots. Voting must be done quickly, quietly and everyone must vote at the same time. Voting like this helps eliminate others influencing the vote, forces you to think quickly and not debate with yourself this makes you go with your gut and avoids open discussion.
If you, the decision maker, are afraid everyone is waiting to see how you’re going to vote. Hang back a half a second and make sure you don’t cast the first vote, also make sure you don’t wait till all votes are cast until you start voting. Get in there as soon as the first couple votes are in.
Finally, rank the voted on ideas from highest to lowest, anything with one or no votes gets discarded.
Wait what?! Did you just say discard all those ideas?! But – But- IDEAS!!
– Side note I love the panicked expressions I get when I facilitate these workshops, but more on that later. –
The reason for removing all of the ideas not voted on is because we want your team to shift their focus to most important ideas and not second guess themselves. If any of the ideas, problems or solutions, that didn’t get voted on are important enough they will show up again in another decision workshop.
Prioritization – Impact and Effort
You have now ruthlessly isolated your top solutions or your biggest problems within the context of the workshop subject. Typically you will have between 8 and 10 top ideas and usually, you would move forward with the idea with the most votes. This is a point where the decision maker can override the vote with a supervote. You are the lead decision maker as the company leader or who you’ve appointed as the decision maker, if you can’t attend. You only have a chance to use your supervote twice so use it smartly. You can only use your supervote to outrank the top voted idea and choose from the other top voted ideas. So no rummaging through the wastebasket of discarded ideas from earlier.
Moving on: If you’ve just used this process to isolate problems, then repeat the note and vote method on the problem you’re moving forward with to generate solutions. Turn your problem into a how might we statement (HMW). For example, “How might we improve the communication between the waiters and the kitchen staff?” This gives your problem a more positive and opportunistic spin.
If you’ve just generated solutions to a problem and voted on them you now have a handful of solutions that need prioritized. Don’t get out that second supervote just yet there’s a better place to use it.
It’s time to prioritize your solutions. We want to determine which solutions will have the highest impact with the least amount of effort. This will allow you to determine what solution to take action on first. You will need to draw an impact effort scale.
Taking your top eight solutions, one at a time hold each solution in the middle of the scale and ask your team “up or down” for impact. These are the only two words your team are allowed to say. Once everyone agrees on the scale of impact, then ask them “left or right” for effort. Once everyone agrees on the scale of effort place the solution post-it at the agreement point of impact and effort. Continue with all of your top voted solutions until finished. Your team may attempt to ask for clarity on the solution but don’t allow it or all your work to this point could become derailed and devolve back into discussions.
At this point in time, if you choose, as the decider, you can use your supervote for the second and final time to override highest rated solution. If you do, limit your supervote to one of the solutions that is in the “do now” quadrant. That way your team can take quick action and start to see results. You can always add on a longer term project solution as a secondary goal.
Congratulations! You have a small prioritized collection of solutions created and curated by you and your team. Now let’s do what really counts and take action on the solutions. First, select or ask for volunteers from your team. At least two team members per solution. Work with them to create an experiment around the solution. A few simple tasks that can be done in a week or two, then list criteria for success, in other words, what does the solved problem look like.
Track the tasks and the team assigned to the solution on an action board or task tracking software.
After your team has had a few weeks to work on the tasks and analyze their findings have a 30 min meeting where they list out: what worked, what didn’t work, and what are next steps. If multiple teams present their work, you will see the patterns of similarities and differences in each team’s presentation and can draw on that toward making a more informed decision.
I’ve covered a lot of steps in this decision workshop. By now you’re probably thinking, this is great, but it’s going to take forever. If you just let your team generate ideas till they had no more and take their time to consider every problem and solution while voting you’d be right. But not if you use time boxing.
Time boxing puts time limits on every step. Once you do this, two things happen:
- You constrain the workshop to 2hrs (1.5hr once your team gets good at it.)
- You accelerate how your team thinks, by eliminating internal deliberation and force quantity over quality of ideas.
This is where having a big visible timer to maintain that sense of urgency and keep everyone on task is useful. Most professional workshop facilitators recommend the ‘Time Timer’ because it is a great way to visualize time quickly.
Keep in mind this workshop is flexible and the tools covered here can also be used individually, apart from the whole exercise. For example, if a circular discussion or debate breaks out in a meeting and you realize a decision will never be made. Break out the post-it’s for a quick time boxed ‘Note and Vote’ and end that bridge to nowhere discussion in minutes.
The decision workshop outline
Here is the workshop broken down into steps. If you would like to take a more detailed look into this workshop you can find the original concept here: AJ&Smarts’ LDJ Guide.
Step #1: (5min) Before the meeting make sure you know what aspect or opportunity space you want to focus on and explain that to your team.
Rule #1: Only the facilitator gets to talk unless given permission.
Rule #2: Trust the process.
Step #2 (3 min) What’s moving us forward (optional ice breaker). Sets a positive tone letting your team create post-its for what’s working for the opportunity space you open within step 1. Let them stick their three favorites on the board and read them out loud. (This the only time anything by the team will be read out loud.)
Step #3 (8 min) What’s holding us back. Generate the problems you see with the opportunity space.
Step #4 (10 min) Group the problems into categories.
Step #5 (8 min) Silent voting. What’s causing the most trouble or which is the biggest challenge holding the team back?
- You can vote multiple times on the same sticky.
- You can vote for your own sticky.
- You must use all your dots.
- You CAN NOT ask for further explanation of an idea. (skip if you don’t understand)
Step #6 (2min) Stack stickies’ in order from most to least voted. Stickies’ with 0 to 1 vote are ignored.
Step #7 (6 min) Turning issues, problems, and challenges into actionable, opportunistic questions. How Might We (HMW). Note: Other top voted problems you did not move forward with this time can be backlogged and revisited starting at this step. This is also where you can use your first supervote.
Step #8 (5min) This is all about solution idea generation. It’s not about good ideas, it’s about having a lot of ideas. Quantity over Quality. Try to come up with at least 15 ideas.
Step #9 (2 min) Stick your top 10 ideas on the board.
Step #10 (3 min) Silently vote on what you feel are the most promising ideas, keeping in mind the problem (HMW) statement. See voting rules.
Step #11 (1 min) Arrange stickies’ in order from most to least votes. Only the top 10 solutions move on or 2 or more votes, whichever comes first.
Step #12 (8 min) Impact effort placement. Keep in mind the problem statement when deciding where to place the solutions. Also, the second opportunity to use your final supervote.
Step #13 (10 min) Define tasks and success criteria for your best solution/s and assign team members to take action.
Follow up: (30 min meeting) After about two weeks each team reviews their progress and findings. What worked what didn’t, and next steps.
Your team now has more confidence because they see things getting done, and feel that their voice is being heard. They will also build leadership skills since they now have a structure to facilitate a workshop with actionable outcomes. By facilitating a decision workshop using alone together principles will help increase unique solutions from all your team members, eliminate never ending discussions, prioritize the best solutions and take action all in one meeting.