Avoiding an Impasse in Decision-Making on StrategyIn the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch, a business strategy consultant, offers practical advice for how a leadership team at a company can work toward a decision on strategy that all team members are aligned with.
Frisch contrasts this outcome of team alignment with the unhappy alternative in which the team members disagree to the point of impasse, and the CEO ends up making the call leaving at least some members feeling as though a suboptimal outcome has been dictated to them.
Based on his experience in assisting companies with setting up and running strategy meetings, Frisch recommends adoption of a straightforward decision-making process:
- Articulate clearly the desired outcome (e.g., "raise gross margins to at least 18% by the end of the year").
- Generate a range of options for achieving the desired outcome.
- Determine which constraints are truly binding (constraints that are "walls"), and which can be eased (constraints that are movable "fences").
- Early in the discussion get everyone's preferences out in the open. The team needs "to identify areas of agreement and disagreement as well as the potential for deadlock." As discussion proceeds, options can be tailored.
- Identify each option's pros and cons. To make sure that the cons get sufficient scrutiny, it may be useful to designate one or more devil's advocates whose job it is to spell out the downside of each option.
- Create new options that preserve the best features of the options already assessed. As Frisch puts it, "Teams should continue to reframe their options in ways that preserve their original intent ..."
- Deliberations should be confidential. "A secure climate for the conversation is essential to allow team members to float trial balloons and cut deals."
- The team should be given adequate time to do its analysis of the options offered. Frisch points out that "[b]reaking up the discussion into several meetings spaced widely apart and interspersed with additional analysis and research gives people a chance to reconsider their preferences. It also gives them time to prepare their constituencies for changes that are likely to emerge as a result of a new strategy."