Have you ever walked out of a meeting with a scowl on you brow because no progress was made… again?
This phenomenon has many names: spinning, logjam, stalemate. Often they are followed by some colorful analysis of your peers’ talent and intellect - all quietly in your own head lest anyone actually hear how frustrated you are.
Spinning on a decision has many detrimental impacts to an organization. The inertia can be felt deep into the company ranks. Employee confidence can be shaken. The trajectory of the company comes into question, even if there is no real cause. Inertia has the exact opposite effect of what organizational members want.
What they want are clearly stated goals and consistent timely action to back-up the message.
So what do you do? How can a team of crazy-inspired-intelligent people get in such a tailspin and make no progress forward?
I have observed a few select traits that get an otherwise aggressive and successful team mired in the mud.
High Risks - There is a LOT to lose for everyone.
Uneven Rewards - The risk does not reward a multitude of stakeholders.
Competency Optics - Change in direction points to lackluster team performance.
Passion vs Reality - Data and Sentiment are mismatched.
Influential Bully - The “Important Voice” overshadows critical debate and discussion.
As you reread the list, take a moment and reflect on a recent blocked situation:
Is there any thing that points to the idea that the team is foolish or incompetent?
Is any one person to blame?
Usually, no single person is to blame. Even in the “Important Voice” scenario.
By the time folks acknowledge they are in the spinning-logjam-stalemate state, the team has hit a hard stop and folks have dug into their positions, often without realizing it.
And then… time passes.
The problem with time passing and decisions not being made is that you lose the opportunity to evaluate progress and pivot.
Often, the best bet is to get a fresh set of eyes in the room to evaluate the situation and help facilitate alignment.
Get everything out there.
Exactly what could be lost, for whom, and what is the impact of that loss?
How much risk is involved for each stakeholder?
What is the lost opportunity for those stakeholders should they yield their position? What is the impact to the company?
Has a deliverable actually failed?
Or is the failure that the team has not performed in a clear and timely manner?
If the team were to align and make an aligned decision and broadcast a united front, what would be the broad perception? Would that perception impact company confidence?
Why is there a mismatch between sentiment and reality?
Dig into the data - the source, the credibility, the gaps - does it reflect the metrics to help make the decision? Or is the data the best it can be with known gaps?
What exactly are the sentiments? What are the hopes, dreams, and fears of each team member? What are the team members’ intention for broad stakeholders: employees, customers, vendors, shareholders?
Has expectation organically blossomed beyond capabilities? Have expectations been improperly set?
Does the Important Voice realize how much weight it carries in the room?
Does the Important Voice have a deaf ear to the reality of its team?
As you and your new eyes walk through this process - probably over the course of 3-5 days, a full inventory of individual and team feedback, data, and observations needs to be assembled.
At each point, the facilitator needs to step away from the characters in the room and look at the patterns presented and reflect on these questions:
What does everyone agree on?
Do they know they agree on that thing?
What does everyone disagree on?
How far apart are their disagreements? Is it in the details?
Or is it a giant chasm that dwarfs the Grand Canyon?
Who has the most to lose in this situation? And if there is a loss for that person, what is the impact to them, their brand, their team, their value in the organization?
Who has the least skin in the game? What is their role in shaping the decision? Why are they in the room?
Is everyone’s role and responsibility clearly defined for this particular concern?
There are a thousand ways to catalog, sort and share the facilitator’s observations. Perhaps the most profound thing the facilitator can do for the group is to gain alignment on the stakes for the company, the primary beneficiary or impacted stakeholder, and the risks associated for all stakeholders.
The best decision must be made by the team under the terms that they designed.
Since every culture is different, no one-size-fits-all methodology can be applied. Instead, the facilitator with the team must agree on how they will agree, support, and contest a strategic decision.
Quickly scan this article again.
Some people will say, piece of cake! Others will step back and say, that’s just a bunch of psycho-bunk. Some will say, that's even more time we will never get back!
But if you are spinning-logjammed-stalemated, why have you and your incredibly intelligent peers not made forward movement?
Recall the value of time. It is the single business element you cannot return or purchase.
Every moment we are not making deliberate choices to move forward, we delay learning opportunities.
This is not to say there is no place for slowing down a process to be thorough. Going slow to go fast, examining many potential impacts and outcomes, and allowing a setting-phase to ensure sanity - these are all very deliberate uses of time.
The blocked phase comes as a result of not being able to actually use time deliberately.
Being blocked without a go-forward plan creates a heightened sense of criticality… things become life or death.
I recommend you gather your team together, and begin a dialog. See if you can get the cards out on the table.
Creating a constructive plan to divine a path forward is not time wasted. It is investing in your tomorrow so your team can get back to doing what it does best.