After an hour of debate, their choices had narrowed. Dylan summarized: "Either we deliver the original package using only our downsized team and downsized budget, or we cancel. I think we have no choice. We go ahead with what we have left." He turned to Helen. "Don't you agree?"
Helen felt pressured. Dylan, along with the rest of the group, was seeing only some of their choices. Helen decided to tell them that. "I do agree that those are two of our choices. I'm just wondering about our other options. What happens if we offer to stretch out the schedule?"
Helen is gently trying to widen the team's choices by describing one alternative specifically, to see if the team will consider it. How well that tactic works depends on why the group has chosen not to look for other options.
Here are some choice-widening tactics tailored to situations when teams might not see their full range of choices.When a group is reluctant
to look at all its choices,
what can you do?
- It's their football
- If the team is in a dependent stance, it might decide that its choices are limited, considering only those options that it believes are approved.
- Question those beliefs. Instead of proposing a specific alternative choice, as Helen did, try to move the team to explore possibilities directly with those who have approval authority.
- Taboos sometimes prevent the discussion of certain alternatives. For instance, a taboo against acknowledging failure can close down any discussion of a schedule slip or a cancellation.
- Direct attention toward the taboo. Ask about it, and ask what will happen if the taboo suspended for five minutes. Use humor. Once the taboo is suspended, open a discussion of alternatives.
- Imaginary responsibility shift
- By letting others dictate the choice, team members transfer the responsibility for the consequences of the choice — at least in their own minds.
- Open a discussion of responsibility. Ask directly who is responsible for the consequences of the choices the team makes. Can it ever be anyone other than the team?
- Fear of success
- Virginia Satir observed that people often choose the familiar over the comfortable. Sometimes success looks risky.
- Explore the upside of the alternatives you have in mind. For instance, Helen could ask, "If we slip by three months, how much better would our product be?"
- Trips to Abilene
- Sometimes a group decides to do something nobody in the group wants to do ("Trips to Abilene," Point Lookout for November 27, 2002).
- Ask "are we on a trip to Abilene?" Explore the reasons behind the choices the group has made.
A narrow range of choices produces a narrow range of outcomes. When a team needs more choices, a wide range of choice-widening tactics helps. Some of the tactics above might serve in your situation, but what if you need more choices for widening choices? How can you find more? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- Message Mismatches
- Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and
tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message
- Recovering Time: II
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
so little done? To find more time, focus on strategy.
- Fill in the Blanks
- When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others
to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.