One important responsibility we all have as leaders is to help our teams cut through the clutter of too much data and too many choices. The most successful teams are those which can analyze information accurately, collaborate effectively, and make good decisions efficiently. It’s not unusual for teams to get bogged down in complex issues for which there is no obvious solution. The more variables there are, the harder it is to see through the confusion. While an effective leader doesn’t necessarily have all of the answers, she or he does have the ability to clear the path so the team can find the answers.
Three ways a good leader can bring order to the chaos of complex issues are as follows:
- Continuously steer towards the goal and/or the problem to be solved. It’s very common for teams engaged in a collaborative process to stray from the main point. One person makes a statement, the next person adds a new perspective, the third person takes the discussion a different direction, and soon the team is working on a completely different problem. An effective leader will recognize when the team has gotten off track, clarify the objective, and bring the team’s conversation back to the main point. In order to do this, the leader must have a clear vision of the goal and must listen carefully to the evolution of the discussion. Once it becomes obvious that discussion has wandered too far, a simple reminder of the real objective is all that will be necessary to get things back on track.
- Break down different aspects of a problem into two dimensions. For example, a team may face the dilemma of how to prioritize a list of potential strategic projects which cannot all be accomplished. The team may go round and round discussing the relative merits of each project, but it will be hard for them to come to agreement without a clear and visual comparison. The clutter-cutting leader will help the team identify the two most important aspects of the projects to consider. In this case, the two dimensions might be amount of revenue that will be generated from each project and the amount of resources required to complete each project. With these two dimensions identified, the team can visually chart the projects onto a grid that contains four quadrants (High resource cost & High revenue generation, Low resource cost & High revenue generation, High resource cost & Low revenue generation, and Low resource cost & Low revenue generation). Projects which fall into the low cost, high revenue quadrant should be prioritized at the top, while projects which fall into the high cost, low revenue generation should be the ones which are first to fall off of the to-do list. The visual representation into two dimensions brings clarity to the problem in way that every team member can grasp.
- Create a series of prioritized binary choices. Complex issues are difficult because they have many angles and many different parts. Teams can easily become paralyzed by layers of micro-decisions that all seem intertwined and interdependent. A clutter-cutting leader will help a team sort through the ambiguity by breaking down multi-dimensional questions into a series of yes/no or otherwise close-ended decisions. For example, a team that is working on the launch of a new product is faced with the difficult decision of setting the roll-out price. But the price issue can be directly related to other aspects of the new product roll out such as competitive positioning, costs, marketing plans, etc. The team might endlessly discuss the pros and cons of various price points without arriving at consensus. An effective leader will lay out several questions in a way that will guide the team to consensus, such as…
- What variable costs must our product’s price cover?
- What is the competition’s price?
- Do we want our product to be priced higher or lower than competition?
- How do we want this product to be priced relative to our own existing product(s)?
By centering discussion on these tangible questions, the team will be led to make a series of micro-decisions. Each of these micro-decisions will move the team a step closer to the big question of “What should our price be?”
By using these clutter-cutting techniques, leaders will be shining a spotlight on the path ahead, and teams can become more effective with the process of collaborative decision making.