Unblocking group decisions

The internet is full of articles telling you why you should avoid paralysis by decision. Companies obsess on this problem and create core values such as "bias towards action" to battle it.

But often, a group of humans can get stuck on choosing which problem to tackle and how to do it.

Based on my observations on how groups get stuck, I provide a few tips to help unblock those decisions.

Disagreement among members and no individual with authority to make the decision

It is good (and even healthy) that people can disagree. Most groups will move past a disagreement either by consensus or authority. But groups only get stuck when no one is in charge to resolve the lack of consensus.

The obvious solution is to escalate it to someone who can do it. But what if the group has no person they can escalate to?

Here are some ideas for unblocking the decisions in those scenarios:

Clarify the problem space. Spend more time discussing what you want to solve.

Align priorities. Discuss which problems need to be solved first and why.

Narrow down the scope. If you are stuck on what to solve or how to solve it, you might be able to find agreement on a subpart of that problem first. This way, the group can add value by taking a first step that improves the current state.

Add people that could bring a new perspective to the table. Invite an expert on the topic or someone that can ease the discussion by asking questions.

People leaving the room before making the decision

Another way groups get stuck is when they interrupt the discussion due to not making time for it.

Why would teams not make time for making a decision? It works like this. There is a de-facto standard for meetings duration of thirty to sixty minutes. When a group needs more than 60 minutes to decide, they will have to schedule another 60 minutes slot. The group organizes another 60 minutes slot. When? One or two weeks ahead because everybody is busy. And this process can go on a few more times.

These interruptions can make teams take weeks or months to unblock decisions. It is worse for executives, as they need more time to discuss profound choices.

Make time for making decisions. Talk to the members that have to make the decision. Commit to not leaving the room until making a decision. Make room in your calendars for a few hours of discussion.

Do it asynchronously. Using Google docs or Gitlab/Github issues can help the group make the decision at their own pace. You may use an ADR-like template to track and make these decisions.

Special thanks to David Golden for providing fantastic feedback on a drafts of this article.

Update 09/02: Thanks to Mariano Grimaux for the detailed feedback and to Kevin Dangoor for the suggestion of moving the conversation to an async mode when the group has no time to do it in sync meetings.

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Matias Lespiau

Matias Lespiau

Madrid, Spain