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
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Status-Report as a Second Language
- Sometimes, the clichés the losing team's players feed to sports reporters can have hidden meaning.
So it is with Project Status Reports, especially for projects in trouble.
- Organizational Firefighting
- Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When
this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we
have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Content
- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- Tangled Thread Troubles
- Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes
lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.