Every day, you and your coworkers make countless decisions and tackle numerous problems. We know that many of these decisions or problems are so tacit that we don’t even consider them such—things like whether or not to show up for work, clock in, eat lunch, etc.
However, there are some decisions and problems that are much more difficult and complex to deal with—such as setting quarterly strategies, business goals, streamlining operations, and more. The more effectively and efficiently these issues can be handled, the better. Yet, while many organizations desire a more effective decision-making process, few achieve one that works consistently.
To help your organization find an ideal way to handle these challenges, here are a few decision-making and problem solving examples in the workplace that have worked for other organizations:
Whole Foods and Collaborative Decision Making
In an interview with Big Think, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey talked about how he made major decisions at Whole Foods—decisions that helped grow the company into a $13.7 billion organization that attracted the attention of Amazon.
During the interview, Mackey said that he “tries to make major decisions at Whole Foods by trying to come to a consensus among the top minds in the company. When disagreements get expressed through the decision-making process,” he says, “you generally end up making better decisions.” Mackey also noted that “while it takes longer to make the decision, once you begin [to] implement it, it goes a lot faster because there isn’t sort of resistance and sabotage that works its way through the organization.”
In other words, by bringing others into the decision-making process and encouraging them to share their dissenting opinions, he could find and address the flaws in a particular solution or decision more easily. This let Mackey address these issues and get buy-in from the rest of the leadership at Whole Foods at the same time—minimizing delays from internecine quibbles after the decision was made and the solution implemented.
So, your own organization might benefit from using a collaborative process on major internal decisions—one where participants are actively encouraged (and expected) to share their comments and concerns so that the final decision will have the best possible impact.
Clearing Out Time to Make Creative Decisions
Tim Ferriss, author of the book Tools of Titans, has interviewed many entrepreneurs and established business owners for his podcast and for his writing research. In one Big Think article, Ferriss talks about some of the important insights he’s gleaned from these business owners over the years.
As it turns out, to make the best and most creative decisions, people sometimes need to create what Ferriss calls “empty space.” As Ferriss notes in the video interview:
“Three to five hour uninterrupted blocks of time are extremely critical if you want to connect the dots, if you want to have the space to allow yourself to have original ideas or at least original combinations of ideas you really need to block out that time and protect it at least once a week. So, in Tools of Titans, there are many people who do this, Remet Set, for instance, who has a very, very successful multi, multimillion-dollar business that he built out of a blog he started long ago in college, which was very, very niche in its focus, he blocks out I believe it’s every Wednesday for three to five hours of time he’ll block it out for learning. Noah Kagan, another entrepreneur, does the same thing… Because as soon as you go into bullet dodging or, like Wonder Woman, bullet blocking mode with everyone else’s agenda for your time, which is very often the inbox or text messages, you’re DOA, you’re done.”
This frees time to think, learn, and concentrate without having to worry about emails, phone calls, texts, and other interruptions gives these business leaders the ability to focus and think more creatively about their businesses. This has helped them make more successful enterprises that grow and enable others to excel.
Having to split focus among the concerns of every other member of the team can be detrimental to decision-making and problem solving. So, for some, creating an empty block of space in the schedule to learn or think about specific issues without interruption can be an effective tool.
Decision-Making After a Break
Even just taking a break from a task to do something else can help improve decision-making and creativity, as highlighted in a Big Think article about how unconscious thinking can help with problem solving tasks.
One of the studies discussed in the article, “gave 112 university students two minutes to generate creative solutions that could improve the experience of waiting in line at a cash register. Ritter created two groups: half tackled the problem right away, while the others played a video game for two minutes.” The groups were later asked to pick which of their ideas were the most creative. Surprisingly, the videogame group seemed to have better ideas, and to be better at identifying the best ideas.
As the article noted:
“while those in the conscious condition only picked their most innovative concepts about 20 percent of the time – they confused their genius with their mediocrity – those who had been distracted located their best ideas about 55 percent of the time. In other words, they were twice as good at figuring out which concepts deserved more attention.”
Although not an example of decision-making in the workplace, this study does highlight an interesting concept—giving people the time away from a problem can help them be better at solving it when they come back to it.
So, giving employees a little leeway to back away from a difficult task and come back to it later can help them be more insightful and creative—leading to better decisions.
Asking for Advice: Robert S. Kaplan
Robert S. Kaplan, the President and Chief Executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has a significant piece of advice for business owners who want to improve the way they make decisions: “Burst your own bubble and ask for advice.”
In his article, Kaplan describes a common problem that gets in the way of leaders finding ways to improve: the power imbalance between leaders/managers and their teams. This imbalance of power, as Kaplan puts it, is that “you control their lives, you set their compensation. If they have future aspirations in their career you’re the person they’re relying on. You have all the power.” And, this power can make employees fearful of giving feedback.
So, as a leader, Kaplan says that “you’ve got to ask them for advice.” Kaplan personally recommends using one-on-one sessions to help make employees just a little more comfortable sharing their advice because “no one wants to criticize you in front of others. They’re not going to do that unless they’re suicidal, but most people are not.”
Creating one-on-one sessions with employees to evaluate your areas for improvement as a leader can be difficult. However, it’s vital to get an outside perspective if you’re going to correct blind spots in your decision-making processes and see things from a different angle.
These are just a few examples of ways to approach decision-making or problem solving in the workplace. For more about cultivating a problem solving mindset, check out the Decision-Making/Problem Solving Course featuring more insights from experts like Robert S. Kaplan, Timothy Geithner, and many more!