How often have you left a meeting where a serious discussion resulted in a decision that, upon reflection, had you second-guessing whether or not the team made the very best choice?
This often happens when there are two competing options and the decision-maker selects either option A or option B.
Such an Either / Or choice is frequently appropriate when:
- The choice really is strictly binary.
- Time pressures influence the choice because:
- They limit the perceived options and favor sticking with the status quo;
- No viable options seem readily available or obvious;
- Schedule constraints limit the time available for meeting preparation and adequate time to analyze options in the meeting.
Consider Option C
Sometimes when a client asks me my opinion as to whether I would select option A or option B, my response is “Yes”.
Being clever is never my rationale for responding like that. My answer is often based upon my observation that it sounds like both options merit consideration.
Instead of an Either / Or choice, I suggest they consider a Both / And option.
When there is time to analyze both options you often find that the best choice is some combination of A and B. There is wisdom and insight in both options and discerning how the best elements of each can result in an option C that is very likely superior to A or B.
Here are a few examples of how Either / Or thinking can morph into Both / And thinking:
- Performance appraisals: Historically there have been differences of opinion as to whether the appraiser should focus on just those areas that need improvement versus reinforcing the individual’s strengths. Thinking has evolved here into being clear about opportunities for improvement AND discussing ways to exploit an individual’s strengths.
- Delegating or assigning key tasks: A leader can challenge a team member with stretch goals that are demanding. But they can ALSO provide support and direction to help them succeed.
- Strategy vs. Tactics: Tactics and strategy don’t move the performance needle much unless the tactics support the strategy. Developing strategies can be complex and difficult and developing effective tactics is also critical. Connecting the two is a leader’s key responsibility.
- Individual AND Team success: Recognizing team success is usually pretty straightforward if the right metrics are decided upon from the start. It doesn’t have to be detrimental to the team to reward individual performance that goes above and beyond.
Barriers to Both / And Thinking
Although the Both / And concept may sound logical and compelling, it is not the norm in many businesses’ decision-making. We highlighted some of the key reasons for Either / Or thinking, but what gets in the way of moving toward Both / And thinking besides the constraints of time and the reality of very limited options?
I would say we have to consider both organizational politics and the skill of the meeting leader or facilitator. Reasons here include:
- The competitive nature of team members that reflects power struggles within the organization. The exercise of power is usually about the allocation of resources that can be used to support one option versus the other. It’s a battle about vision and ideas and the value of the accolades that go along with “winning”.
- The hubris of some participants who have such pride or self-confidence in their suggestions that they do not openly embrace a fair consideration of other options.
Most folks who have enjoyed organizational success can recognize these behaviors because of their past experiences. To manage the downsides of such behavior as they play themselves out requires facilitation skills on the part of the meeting leader or an individual who is designated the meeting facilitator.
There is plenty of training available to enhance the facilitation skills of any leader if they choose to add this to their skill sets. Without such an investment of time to learn about this, teams can get stuck in making exclusively Either / Or decisions.
In my experience, skilled meeting facilitators move problem-solving discussions along smoothly by ensuring that:
- Everyone who has an opinion gets heard;
- Ideas are recorded in a simple and concise fashion and buy-in occurs along the way;
- Continually pulls the conversation into focus on whatever problem is being discussed;
- Good ideas or inputs but that are not directly related to the problem at hand, are recorded and put into a list or “parking lot” for later consideration;
- Ensures that accurate meeting notes and decisions are recorded and disseminated quickly to all involved after the meeting.
Moving to a Both / And decision-making style has significant benefits but does require some careful thought in making the transition.
- Am I aware when my team seems to be stuck in an Either / Or decision-making style?
- Will I explore how to gain facilitation skills that can assist me to be an effective Both / And meeting leader?
- Will I make it a point to reinforce to my team the higher quality decisions that result from the effective use of Both / And thinking?
All the best in making this significant leap in decision style for you and your team.