Using this idea of a team flywheel that captures the energy and capacities needed for team performance, we’re looking at the three ‘D’s teams must nurture to realise their potential: Discover, Distil and Do.
In the Discover article we considered how developed teams allow the unrestricted flow of information between their members, to achieve a level of self-awareness, other-awareness and context-awareness that is vital to sense and respond to change, but also to create and pursue the new in a world of unlimited possibilities. Here we’re unpacking Distil by integrating our experience of developing teams with organisational research into team performance.
Distil is all about how great teams make decisions that are more rational than they are emotional.
What we’re not suggesting is that great teams eliminate emotion from their decisions in favour of completely objective logic.
In fact, I usually get an allergic reaction when I hear people say their decisions are purely rational. The idea of a purely rational mind is a deeply held belief passed through generations since Plato uttered the infamous words “I think therefore I am”, and it’s alive and well in our culture today. We spend much of our work raising awareness of that deeply held script, by sharing insights from psychology and neuroscience that reveal our decisions stem from our unconscious limbic (emotional) brain, before they are post rationalised in our thinking brain. It’s more like “I feel therefore I am”!
Distil is about recognising how our emotions inform our decisions and using this insight to make better decisions.
This idea can be traced back to Freud who noticed an arc of development where people mature from having little control of their emotions and their responses (sometimes called being ‘had by’), towards having the presence and awareness to be more choiceful in their response to an event or trigger (response-ability).
In organisations today there’s so much pressure to work, adapt and deliver results at pace – a bias for action. There’s also an association between being decisive and the stereotype of
good leadership, hence the dialogue around decisiveness tends to be positively framed and it’s relatively rare to hear someone being praised for taking time to make a decision.
Spreadsheets and plans are often a trigger for this habitual response to pin things down, make a decision and crack on!
Our experience of working with teams and research suggests there are real benefits of taking the time to slow down thinking rather than automatically following this strong pull to decide.
Daniel Kahneman, known for his Nobel Prize winning research and book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, revealed how our unconscious biases result in decision making that is nowhere near as accurate and rational as we think. Reducing the biases in our decisions is vital for teams during these times of Black Lives Matter and the slow progress with gender, LGBTQ, and to be frank most forms of equality. We all need to practice questioning assumptions and challenging each other on the thinking behind decisions, especially as we come together in more diverse teams, and as we continue to find ourselves in homogenous teams.
This is no simple task, we are wired with thousands of years of evolution to conform with our social group for survival, so it’s tempting for us all to agree with the majority of our colleagues. Some of this is being polite to build trust and relationship, some of it is to preserve harmony and avoid the discomfort of disagreement or rejection.
We encourage teams to create a space where relationships are strong and trusting enough to question in a way that people don’t feel personally threatened. Options here include pausing to share or inquire about feelings, sharing not knowing “I’m not quite sure about this” or your own concerns “I feel slightly anxious about where we are with this”; or inviting someone in the team to take the role of challenger or critical friend, to offer a deliberately contrary view. The more we can say what we really feel and want to say, without being held back by uncomfortable feelings, worries or fears, the more we can freely share information with each other and make rational decisions based on a more rounded stream of information.
So the next time you’re feeling the pressure for the team to decide right now, ask yourself if it’s possible to slow down even for a few minutes to explore assumptions, invite alternative options, perspectives and possibilities. That moment to pause could be the source of insight that moves you ahead and beyond at speed…