“Did the client end up being served, and receiving what he had ordered?” asked Sarah. “Yes, but how you did it was wrong” answered Luke.
Being criticized or blamed isn’t something most people look forward to with pleasure when coming to work. The same for having an “incompetent” sign pinned on them. Yet, there’s something that can make any “good day” of work get off the track: decisions.
How can you then prevent decision making from turning a choice into a time bomb at work?
GET TO KNOW THE SOURCES OF CONFLICTS AND FEAR…
Made decisions are sources of conflicts in many teams. Usually for the bases on which a choice was made. More often for the consequences the dire-choice could (but will not necessarily) have on others or the company. Like increasing someone’s workload, losing a sale, etc..
Just as we tend to stay on our guards and keep our distances with a threat, when made aware of one, some people like to stay away from any decision making at work. Choosing passivity and inaction over commitment. Because of potential criticism and retaliations one of their decisions might earn them… again. Even if they have much experience in their work. Some people will push things further by turning down a promotion if it involves having more decision-making responsibilities than they already have.
The most basic reasons for not committing ourselves (into making decisions)? Fear and desire for self-protection. Because of the most famous “What if I make a wrong decision?”
Instead of putting ourselves at risk, we do our best to find a safe outlet then; like a decision-free job or an over structured one. So we don’t have to worry about anything. Least of which: becoming an open target for criticism.
To stay away from any “hazardous area”; like “decision making”, can help those making that choice (intended pun) to ensure their safety. Sort of speak. At the office though, it definitely prevents them from having any positive impact on their team’s dynamic and work as well. No matter the team’s size, as it turns out. Isolating themselves from the rest of the group can actually make them more likely to be criticized. It’s a Catch 22.
How can you help avoid decision making from turning a choice into a time bomb? From changing potential active contributors into passive doers?
AND TURN WHAT IS GRAY-COLORED INTO CLEAR
The simplest way is to turn “gray areas” into clear “charted territories”.
Why? Because “gray areas” are situations where the “how to do X if Y happens” is unclear. Making uncertainty, doubt and interpretation the king, jack and queen in any decision process then. At the opposite, “charted territories” are filled with clarity. Leaving almost nothing for decisions-based arguments and conflicts to be built upon. Moreover, when you talk to people in different lines of work, you learn that a majority of weeks are spent making decisions about situations people have already come across before in their work. Giving somewhat of an old feel to the majority of gray areas they encounter.
How do you turn a “gray area” into a “charted territory” then?
By fostering readiness for yourself and among your teammates. Something very efficient groups like the NASA and the Army have become masters at.
4 PRINCIPLES TO HELP YOU OUT
For small teams, fostering readiness can be very useful as well. If you follow four (4) key principles the NASA and likes have used to set their own readiness strategy.
First principle: Recognize patterns and key “decision moments” in your team’s work. That is, for instance, when a choice between two or more options constantly needs to be made at a certain stage of a process so it can keep moving forward towards completion. Examples of “decision moments” in a shipping department: choosing a box filler (like bubble wrap, plastic peanuts or else). In a staffing agency: choosing which drivers among five available should be dispatch to a specific client, etc.. Second principle: Put together – with the help of your team – a basic “instruction guide”, “check list” or “standards chart”. Something that will give everyone a general idea of “what to do if X, Y or Z happens”, and what the “end-result” of all their time and efforts should look like. Third principle: Keep your “guides” or “charts” up to date with your work’s reality, and use them as continuous training tools. Fourth principle: Make any process’ execution almost a second nature, through either supervised or peer-reviewed repetition.
As Chris Hadfield wrote in his book “An astronaut’s guide to life on Earth”: “fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen.”  It’s by replacing fear with confidence that Commander Hadfield was able to accomplish all that he did both, on and off, the space station. A confidence gained in great part while using the four principles above.
Put in perspective, decision making isn’t an exact science or a numbers painting exercise. Like a craft, it’s something you can better at through practice. The same for contributing to a team’s work. The nuance is in being either afraid or confident enough to act on a situation that presents itself.
Time and again the fear of making the wrong decision has been linked to a “gray area”. Feeding many arguments among team members afterward. Time and again, the confidence of making the best decision possible was found in having a clear idea of the appropriate path or “how to” to follow.
How do you get most of your team to say “Under these circumstances, this was the best decision possible” after you’ve committed yourself into making one (decision)? By first getting your colleagues or employees (depending) to agree that there are some “gray areas” that need to be “cleared out” for everyone’s benefit.
Only then the most fearful will start building the confidence they’ll need to go from passive doers to active contributors.
In the end, how many “people with a positive impact on your team” is too many? Your competitors are probably doing all they can right now to actually attract that kind of people on their team. Letting your own employees become shadows in a corner might not be the best of ideas. Even more when you know that all it takes to bring them back is to shed some light onto something that is unclear; a “how to”.
Which “how to” (among those your team has or needs) do you think is worth putting some time on first?
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Photo credits: NASA
– – References – – – – –
 Chris HADFIELD – An astronaut’s guide to life on Earth (Random House Canada, 2013), p52