Shuttle Diplomacy Decision Making
How to make to better decisions without generating waste or confusion
No matter what is your job function, as a professional, you will have at some point to make decisions. The more senior you become, and the bigger the scope you manage, the more complex the decisions you will have to make. Quite often, the decisions you have to make will also have implications on other teams. So the leaders of these teams will also need to participate in the decision making process.
When making decisions that involve multiple stakeholders, a mistake that many people fall into, is that they jump right away into organising a meeting for all the stakeholders. They then start debating the decision without enough preparation in advance. I have watched many of these meetings turn into chaos. Everyone then leaves the meeting confused and dissatisfied about the outcome.
Even when the decision facilitator comes to the meeting prepared with a document that details what exactly is the decision that needs to be made, and proposes some options that the stakeholders can discuss, the meeting can still end without a decision. What usually happens in these meetings is that one or more stakeholders
Raise new questions that the decision facilitator didn’t consider.
Some also can drop in facts that render many of the decision options invalid.
This ends up wasting everyone’s time, and making the decision facilitator (which can be you) seeming like you are not senior enough to manage a complex decision like that. I’m saying this from experience, because I have been in that situation many times before, until I started to figure out a solution.
Shuttle Diplomacy is a common practice used by diplomacy professionals. Whenever two countries are having a big conflict and fail to agree on a solution, an independent intermediary can jump in to facilitate a solution. The facilitator works directly with each side of the conflict separately to understand their goals, motives, concerns, and areas of flexibility. Based on these learnings from each side of the conflict, the facilitator can start coming up with proposals that might work for both parties. Only when an option is approved by both parties, a meeting can happen to make the decision official.
I found this tactic to be also useful in daily decision making at work even if the stakeholders are not in conflict with each other.
This made me improve my decision making process by turning it into these following steps…
Draft a doc detailing
What decision needs to be made and why
Who should be the people involved in the decision making
Define a list of relevant questions that need to inform the decision making
Draft a list of possible decisions and choose one decision to recommend
Schedule one-to-one meetings with the key stakeholders that need to participate in the decision making process
In each of these meetings, I try to
Clarify if we agree on the goal behind this decision and the definition of success
Uncover any questions or facts I didn’t consider when making the decision
Confirm that I didn’t miss someone that should be involved in the decision making
Discuss the drafted decisions, and clarify any objections (if any)
I keep then iterating on the doc and the decision based on my new learnings.
I then get each of the stakeholders to agree on a decision during the one-to-one sessions
If needed, I could organise a small meeting between the two stakeholders that might need to talk directly to clarify some points of conflict
Once I have everyone’s buy-in for one decision, that’s when I can host a quick meeting with all stakeholders to make it official that we all agree on that decision. (or just send a summary email to everyone)
Even though that this might seem to be a longer decision making process, whenever I followed it, the decision making felt smoother, and everyone were surprised that a complex decision was made in a productive way.
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