Team dynamics can make or break a team. We summarize the evidence of the effects of poor dynamics on team decision making here, but there is a more important general point to be made. Teams thrive when they can have full and informed discussion, not when the same voices dominate whatever the topic. When people are regularly denied a voice, morale and team effectiveness suffer. This is one of the most common complaints in teams. But the solutions are straightforward. Which is not quite the same as 'easy', but at least we can point to evidence-based solutions:
Agree some ground rules for discussions
To have the best team discussions and make the best decisions, agreeing a set of ground rules can really help. There is good evidence that agreeing and following the ground rules shown in this video, or something very similar, will improve your discussions and the quality of your decisions.
Quick Tip for teams
This link gives you detailed guidance on how to use the 'Agreeing team ground rules' exercise for you to develop your own ground rules.
Speak and listen well
Team members need to contribute constructively to team meetings based on their expertise.
Opinions are more common - but less helpful - than expertise.
Teams usually have some members who like the sound of their own voice, and some who are more reticent. Each must overcome their shyness or long-windedness to make the most effective contribution. You could have a quiet word with people outside the meeting to encourage them to speak up or shut up. Golden rule: praise in public, but criticise in private.
This is obviously easier if you have a track record of making decisions based on the quality of people’s contribution, not their frequency or volume.
Base decisions on data, not power
An analytical process for making decisions, combined with good data, produces the best results. You shouldn’t just rely on a process where the most important person in the room makes the decision. Team leaders please note.
Even with good data, judgement calls are often needed. The best choice here is to establish an open dialogue between the team member with the specialist knowledge and the person who is taking responsibility for the decision.
Beware the sloppy compromise of consensus – where options are tossed around until an option no-one seems to disagree with emerges. You may well be missing something important. Watch out for undercover team dynamics - they can hide disagreements unless you follow a rigorous process.
Use data, transparent analysis, and candid problem-solving.
Disagreements and debates are helpful. Candid discussions eliminate complacency, encourage analysis and lead to better decisions. There is a section devoted to improving team decision-making here.
The trick for the team leader is to encourage disagreement at the same time as discouraging personal conflict. The first focuses on issues and viewpoints, the second on personalities and chemistry.
By asking questions and encouraging different views you will build a dynamic of open and honest discussion in the team.
It will help if the team develops a routine for addressing the most important decisions, with an emphasis on looking at a range of competing options.
Agree team criteria for choosing the best option. Stress that successful teamwork is about team solutions, not individuals winning arguments.
When one option is chosen, review the other options to see if there are aspects of them that would improve the chosen option. Build the improvements in. Celebrate finding the best solution for the team!
When it comes to successful disagreement, practice makes perfect.
1 Straus, S. G., Parker, A. M., Bruce, J. B., & Dembosky, J. W. (2009). The group matters: A review of the effects of group interaction on processes and outcomes in analytic teams. RAND WR-580.