How to ship better ideas by shaping how your team decides
5 ways to build your decision-making climate
Clients hire us to bring new thinking to their complex brand challenges.
They’re looking for new ideas.
A new way to frame their vision and value. New elements to inform their marketing, selling, and serving.
Deep down, they’re really working through a fundamental issue:
How do we adapt?
This root question appears in other ways:
- How do we help our tech stand out in today’s market?
- Do customers see how our product portfolio works for them?
- Are they clear on what they’re buying?
Before you adapt, you make decisions about adapting. Implicitly and explicitly.
If you plan to bring differentiated products to market, then you’ll need differentiated ideas to carry the message.
Which means you’ll need a team skilled at developing creative ideas.
Which requires specific mindsets, models, and methods. Designed to improve ideas through your decision-making process.
Focus on the conditions
But you can’t make good decisions in these conditions:
- Decision-makers change based on internal dynamics
- Decision-makers miss context that informed the work
- Decision-makers solely judge ideas based on their own criteria instead of shared criteria
- Decision-makers aren’t used to recognizing their biases in these areas
The result? Vital business efforts stall. Courageous ideas get replaced by commonplace ones by the end.
Don’t get stuck here
To get better at evolving, get better at decision-making.
Do it by designing the climate for making decisions.
Here are five of our team’s favorite ways to actively facilitate the process.
1) Guide a learning journey
This is where it all starts.
You’ll shape a space to study what must be done.
Get your team to see the process as a high-velocity way to learn. It will change the tenor of the entire experience.
Preparing for the unexpected
With a journey, there are no right and wrong answers.
Just steps that move you closer or further away to the destination.
The goal: to generate ideas that frame how customers and employees see your products and vision. Whether you’re rebranding or launching a new venture.
What’s needed: to bring a team through a process, equip them with a purpose. With knowledge. Common principles. A shared vocabulary.
Prepare them for the surprises and the struggle. Help them spot the shortcuts. And show them that you’ll guide them through it all.
Every moment you spend learning as a group is a moment you’ll save during implementation.
The team who learns together
We’re often asked: Who and how many should participate in the process?
By asking two key questions, you can successfully build working teams that represent your company’s most important perspectives.
Who should contribute?
- People who have crucial information. Or ways of thinking required to make the best decision today.
- People who will run with the new decisions. They’re responsible for carrying the work forward.
How will we make decisions?
- Some cultures are consensus-oriented. The process isn’t complete until the decision-makers agree.
- Other cultures are more individualistic. The process completes when the leader sees the ideas are ready. Groups provide input — a single person decides.
Different decision-models can work. Adopt one at the beginning. DACI, RACI, or other accountability variations are a place to start.
Clarifying roles makes decision-making more predictable.
Don’t be surprised, though. Developing new ideas can cause decision-making styles to change mid-process. Aim to create a robust approach that can withstand change.
2) Seek direction over perfection
You’ll never know if a decision was the right one to make. Until after it’s been made.
Focus on what you can control — today.
Prioritize moving in a productive direction — over creating the perfect answers.
Your job is to weave together the team’s contributions.
Your job is to unwaveringly keep them moving forward.
Your shared job is to make the best decisions possible.
Based on what’s known now. And what’s likely to unfold in the future.
Collectively managing the risk of inferior choices.
Your process must envision the future:
- What results do you need this decision to produce?
- What new path does this decision create?
- What intended and unintended consequences are likely to occur?
- Which ideas are flexible enough to adapt if necessary?
As your working group learns, you’ll refine the answers to these questions.
3) Mind the whole decision flow
The process rarely (if ever) involves a single, heroic decision. And it rarely (if ever) involves a single, heroic decision-maker.
What does it look like, then?
It looks like a visionary team creating and learning together.
Working through a sequence of micro-decisions. Balancing the big picture and the parts. Culminating in a viable decision that’s ready to be adopted.
A blueprint analogy
A blueprint helps you design the whole house experience. So you won’t get so focused on the perfect fireplace you neglect the kitchen.
With creative ideas — you’ll navigate the whole idea. Shaping each part to strengthen the whole.
Finding defining and supportive decisions
Over 15 years, we’ve seen that each engagement has 4-6 major decisions to make. With hundreds of supportive ones.
The trick is in knowing when to handle minor decisions. In what order. And when to laser focus on the choices that matter.
4) Make it. Name it. Frame it.
When developing creative ideas, you’ll have to navigate unique dynamics:
- Multiple people need to see the same thing.
- They need to find language to describe what they see.
- And they need a structure for constructive feedback.
You’ll encounter very human biases. Unexpected emotions. Sometimes internal politics.
What helps the team move forward?
You generate ideas. The goal is many. Every idea is a potential approach to the work. Every idea teaches something about what the final idea needs to do.
Naming is incredibly powerful when used well. Give your idea a name.
Naming the process is helpful. Even naming the working group. When you’re generating ideas, naming the various approaches gives a shared vocabulary. A way to test ideas against the goals.
Examples: Evolutionary approaches vs revolutionary approaches.
Names remind us of the underlying frames.
Use them to remind people consistently: This is where we’re going.
And this is how this decision-making process — and the results — will support that future.
Build common language
You make ideas. You name ideas. The names frame ideas.
This is the start of the working team’s shared vocabulary.
5) Try on the future for a day
We understand what ideas mean when we can engage with them.
We understand what democracy is through the voting experience.
Developing ideas is the process of moving concepts from ethereal to concrete. Or in other words:
Make ideas visible.
Test the ideas that define positioning, messaging, identity by prototyping how you and your stakeholders will experience them.
If you’re renaming your company or product: Use your name options in conversation for a few days.
If you’re working on a visual identity: Design a homepage proof-of-concept. Mock it up in your product UI. Test it on a t-shirt.
Each of these moments is a chance to try on the future. And make it a lived experience. Even if it’s a fabricated one.
Where do we glimpse the future?
Workshops are prototype-sharing opportunities.
Spaces to test and learn about potential futures. To study the decisions at hand.
They’re two-way conversations.
Not only among participants. But between the current and future states being built.
A richer way to evaluate
You’ll make, name, and frame a lot of ideas.
It’s natural to judge these ideas as being right or wrong. Or thinking they’re good or bad.
Instead, evaluate them as possibilities. With potential trade-offs.
They exist as a range of what-ifs.
Along a spectrum of ideas that might be viable for your goals.
Ask this instead.
What about these ideas is working to — or not working to — support where we want to go?
Decisions are commitments to evolve
Much of the work lies in creating a stable way of learning, iterating, and deciding as a team.
Aim to make the subjective process safe, understandable, and grounded.
Even though you’ll push to make the ideas themselves bold and differentiated.
Build on what’s working.
Create ideas that thread together yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You’re connecting past and current decisions with where you’ll go next. Integrating familiar ideas with new ideas.
After all, a good decision is one you can stick with. An answer for what’s next. A catalyst for a new path. A cause for different effects. A better way to believe in.