I flew again last week. To Philadelphia. We were congregating for a corporate strategy meeting. As I arrived I did not know what to expect – meetings such as these can be superb…or not.
As I left at the end of the week, I knew that I had attended a thought provoking meeting. Provocation is a good thing. Thought provoking is a good thing to be. I enjoy being provoked and made to think. I got home Friday and have thought and talked much about what I heard and learned.
Philadelphia was a heady mix. For three days I met, listened to and worked with colleagues – some of whom I knew well and others I was literally meeting for the first time. We talked about topics I have thought about in depth; and topics I haven’t considered before. Looking at it that way it would have been a surprise if I didn’t come away having been provoked into thought.
But the true value of Philadelphia will be defined by what happens next. What we do, how well we do it, who we do it with…and for. Philadelphia was a significant experience for me. I left with new (and renewed) belief about what is possible and what is necessary. But value will only be defined by what I do – starting on Monday – by actions I take and decisions I make.
One of the hardest aspects of being a leader of any group or team of any size –is that process of handing over responsibility and accountability for decisions. Handover of ‘Decision Rights’ is all about trust and confidence; trust and confidence between those giving and those getting responsibility and accountability. We know handover of decision rights is tough – either because we don’t do it, or we tend not to do it well.
Handover involves data, information and knowledge – experiences and beliefs – being passed from individual to individual or from team to team. Handover often involves change in team leadership and membership. Handovers in any system are nearly always weak points in that system – the place where most problems and delays happen.
And this is likely why we don’t handover decision rights very well. Any of us. We believe we have most information and knowledge about what actions to take. Experience tells us (rightly or wrongly) that we are most happy with decisions we make ourselves. We have trust and confidence in our own decision making and action taking. It is in our nature.
It is no surprise then that handovers are so frequently unclear and disempowering within a single organisation, or are similarly unclear and disabling when groups work together across multiple organisations. Decision rights are seldom clarified. And even when we think they are clear…stuff happens.
Decision rights are easier when the decisions are straightforward. But at times of pressure – when stuff happens…when we feel under stress – we can ‘revert to type’…we revert to our preferred style of operating. Under pressure we feel that we have less time to consider our options in any particular situation and we tend to react more quickly or more intuitively.
If our natural style is – for example – more ‘command and control’ or ‘consensus driven’ then that is what we demonstrate when ‘stuff happens’ – and that is what individuals and teams we have asked to make and take decisions will experience. We immediately blur any clarity we have provided over decision rights.
But the solution is ours. It is within us. We can trust and have confidence in people and teams we select. We can empower. And in return people and teams will amaze, delight and inspire us.