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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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