End Meetings with Time Critical Decisions

End Meetings with Time Critical Decisions

David G. Ullman, Ph.D.

Word count: 606 words
Time to read: 2-3 minutes

It is always frustrating to leave a meeting knowing that no decision was made or that a decision reached will surely be revisited.  Usually, decisions are based on information that is uncertain, incomplete, evolving, and conflicting. In spite of this complexity, there are certain meeting activities that help ensure that critical decisions can be made.  There are building blocks that need to be in place during the meeting to ensure that the best possible decision is reached within the meeting’s time constraints.

  1. Know the issues to be addressed before the meeting or discover them early in the meeting. To ensure this, write issues or questions in a single sentence. You will be surprised to learn that not everyone is thinking alike about the issues.
  2. Consider that there are multiple alternative ways to resolve the issue. Meetings where only one alternative is considered are for justifying a decision that is already been made.  Meetings designed to accept or reject a single alternative are problematic.  If the single option is rejected, then is there a second choice?
  3. Evaluate the alternatives with a consistent set of criteria.  This can often be facilitated ahead of time by making a list of measures used in similar, past decisions.
  4. Know the sensitivity of each criterion so that tradeoffs can be made.  A simple way to manage tradeoffs is to set two targets for each criterion. The first is the ideal value, that which will delight you or your client. The second target the threshold below or above which an alternative is no longer acceptable. For example, say you want to buy a new car. You have three criteria for selecting your purchase.  These define your ideal car - it must cost less than $25,000.00, it should get better than 25 miles to the gallon and it should accelerate briskly. Unless you know the sensitivity on the price and mileage, you will have no way of trading off between those two. If one car is $26,000.00 and gets 26 miles to the gallon, are you willing to trade off $1,000 for 1 mpg? There is no way to know unless you state the absolute maximum price you are willing to pay and know how valuable increased mileage is to you.
  5. Be aware of how important each of the criterion are to the different stakeholders. If there is agreement on the targets and a willingness to disagree on the importance of each criterion, then differences of opinion can be better managed. There may be more than one important viewpoint and it is OK to disagree on this point.
  6. Evaluate the alternatives relative to the criteria and document the certainty of each evaluation. If the uncertainty is high, discount the impact on the decision, and realize that decision risk is increased.  If resources are available, items with high uncertainty may be candidates for further work.
  7. Manage the first six items by using a structured method by keeping track of which alternatives are stronger and which are falling by the wayside.  You could use a general purpose tool such as Excel to create a decision matrix that weights relative importance of the criteria, or a specialized decision tool such as Accord™ which also factors in uncertainty and agreement of the multiple team members.

These seven decision building blocks are part of decision making best practice. They are a challenge to do in the heat of the moment but with some preparation and awareness you can use them to reach closure in more of your meetings.



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