Managing Remote Teams #1: Facilitating Group Decision-Making

No, that meeting could not have been an email.

A virtual meeting with diverse teammates on a laptop

What’s worse than another Zoom meeting without any outcome? An endless email chain where a decision is trying to be made. When managing remote teams, how do you cultivate a positive team culture around communication, specifically group decision-making?

Managers, one simple way to engage your employees while working remotely is to invite them into the decision-making process. Get their voices, opinions, ideas, input, and agreement on decisions that impact the business and the team itself. Be clear and know what type of leadership behavior to bring with you to a meeting (yes, you have choices), then your meetings will be engaging and effective. Boom.

To do this– while keeping your team’s performance and trust high– when a decision that affects the team needs to be made, call a meeting. In fact, that’s the only time a meeting should be called: to make group decisions. That’s it.

Involvement = Commitment

Facilitation is asking questions and listening. Facilitation helps you engage your team members in important topics and conversations with one another. The goal in group decision-making is to reach a consensus. A consensus is not a majority. It is not that everyone loves the decision. It means that everyone agrees to support the decision and that everyone can live with it.

Consensus gets a bad rap as being a long and painful task. If your goal is to reach a consensus, make it clear that the team is in a consensus process. The long-term benefits of engagement outweigh the perceived drawbacks. Studies have shown that a consensus process is the most effective, most sustainable, and the best way to create psychological safety and for people to believe their contributions matter.

Managers, when facilitating a group decision-making meeting, here is a helpful checklist to follow.

  • What are we deciding on?
  • Where does everyone sit on the issue?
  • What’s your point of view? If you as the manager have a very clear idea of what you want– do not, we repeat, do not– put your team in a consensus process.
  • What are the key factors in making a team decision?
    • Considerations. What needs to be taken into account?
    • Implementation. How will our decision be supported and put into effect?
    • Politics. What are the knock-on effects of the decision?
    • Feelings and Inclusion. Yes, they matter.
  • The meeting outcomes can be set up in a Decisions-Actions-Agreement format. Example:
    • Decision: These are the things we have decided.
    • Action: These are the steps we will take.
    • Agreements: These are the ways the team will work together to move the decision forward.

When starting a group decision-making meeting, make sure there is clarity on the agenda.

“We are here to decide ‘x.’” Keep it simple. Call the question and call it early. Find out where people stand on the issue. Understand everyone’s viewpoint. Summarize what you are hearing. You may realize that you already have an agreement. We like to use a visual “Thumbs Up – Thumbs in the Middle – Thumbs Down.”

  • Thumbs Up. I am in support of the decision.
  • Thumb in the Middle. I can live with this decision.
  • Thumbs Down. I do not support this decision.

When using Zoom or Teams or any online platform for your meeting, you can all easily see where everyone on the team stands. For those who show a thumbs down or the middle, the facilitation question is this: What would it take for you to have a thumbs up? It’s important to listen to opposing thoughts, so the team doesn’t miss important details or fall into a group think trap.

What happens when the team can’t reach a consensus? As a leader, you have options.

  • “OK, we have an hour. Let’s reach a consensus.”
  • “If we cannot come to a consensus, then I will decide.”
  • “We don’t leave until we reach a consensus.”

We recommend a tried-and-true leadership model, foundational to leadership development (but no spring chicken, lol). It shows a range of styles available to managers when faced with making a decision. The options become increasingly democratic as they move right along the scale.

Tannenbaum and Schmidt's Continuum of Leadership chartNot all decisions require full consensus. Your biggest challenge as the leader is to decide what decisions are the most important to have the group decide together. The result of facilitating group decision-making meetings is building Collaboration. Trust. Commitment. These facilitation methodologies are practical actions that ensure your team trusts you and that their contributions are wanted and valued.

Yes, do all of the feel-good stuff like virtual happy hours and team-building exercises. Those work and help build team relationships. But what makes a Culture-Rific manager? One who builds high-performing teams and who knows how to master group decision-making.

Let’s continue the conversation! Managers, how are you facilitating group decision-making?  What are some of your challenges?


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