3 key roles that will help you make better decisions

Everyone’s got their spin on how to make a meeting successful. They’ll tell you to walk in with an agenda. To limit meetings to twenty minutes so there’s no faffing allowed. To wear special shoes.

But not all meetings are alike. A project kickoff can take all day and cover a ton of ground. A data review can take up two hours on Section 1A alone. Limiting either of these to twenty minutes would go well beyond stifling.

Then there’s the outcome. Can you always walk in with a set agenda and hold everyone to it? Not a chance. Constraints are helpful, but a design concept meeting can fail miserably when you try to force all the creativity into the ten minutes in the middle. Design benefits from breathing room just like everything else. And that’s to say nothing of setting outcomes. When your goals are nebulous in the first place, walking out with a plan is as unlikely as terrible pizza.

Small groups run well

Over the years, I’ve taken notes on how the good teams get through it, and I’ve tried a few things myself. Small teams, far and wide, perform more efficiently than large teams. The sheer fact of involving fewer people enables each one to get more done. Fewer voices result in fewer issues. Hence, with every client for the past 10 years, I’ve kept the core decision-making team down to no more than five people. And five is extreme. The majority of these client situations have involved three or less.

Who you bring into the room, of course, depends on what you’re talking about. For design concepts, bring the designers. For more business-leaning decisions, bring in the business stakeholders. Just not more than five.

Then there’s the matter of running these meetings well. This involves two things: assigning three roles, and ensuring they adhere to three rules.

The decision maker

One person gets the job of being the final decision maker. It doesn’t necessarily matter if this person runs the meeting. What matters is that when the conversation drags itself into quicksand, someone makes the call and gets everyone moving forward again.

Most design decisions can be revisited and revised later on. If an idea is good, it’ll get remembered. If the one you choose bombs out, you can come back to it and try the other thing. Just make a decision so something gets done now.

The devil’s advocate

This person’s job is to poke holes in the ideas pitched by the rest of the group. Ideally, this person has a well of knowledge deep enough to be able to cite evidence for or against an argument. Without evidence, the incessant naysaying is just annoying. But with it, you’re forced to think through ideas and decisions much more thoroughly.

The chorus

The chorus is whoever’s left to do the brainstorming. Not to say you should grab up anyone you can—you should bring in people who know a thing or two about the subject. Just make sure they know that all ideas are welcome, all ideas are possible, and all ideas have both pros and cons. It’ll get everyone in the right mindset, and you’ll have a wall full of Post-Its in no time flat.

The rules

Once roles are in place, just apply the rules. Here’s what they are and why they’re important.

  1. Rotation: Pick different people to play each of these roles each time you do it. This gives everyone a chance to improve over time, and helps each one feel their voice is important to the process. That’s just good management.
  2. Evidence: Make sure every idea and every argument for or against it is backed by evidence. Whether an article, a book, a study, data, personal observation, or something else, evidence is the only way to make a good decision. It’s the thing that builds up those gut instincts you always want to trust. It’s fine to trust your gut sometimes, but use evidence to validate it. Evidence improves confidence all around.
  3. Time: Keeping in mind what I said about making a meeting too short, set a time limit. Freedom is the worst thing to ever happen to design work. Give yourself all day long and you’ll spend half of that in heated debate about colors and shapes. Limit yourself to an appropriate time span and you’ll stay sharp and focused.

For brainstorming meetings, design decisions, business decisions, logic decisions, and so on, try laying out these assignments and putting this structure in place. Let us know how it goes!

Robert Hoekman, Jr.
Post by Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Robert Hoekman, Jr. is a freelance writer, author, and product strategy consultant who has spoken to packed rooms all over the world. He is a columnist for the revered motorcycle culture and lifestyle magazine Iron & Air. He lives in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more about him at www.rhjr.net.

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