Breaking Out of the Inner Circle




Family businesses are by nature very insular, but keeping strategy and other important discussions within the family fold can stifle ingenuity. Instead, savvy business owners should adopt a collaborative decision-making approach and learn to solicit diverse opinions for a stronger, healthier business. Here are 5 steps to take when a high stakes decision is at hand.

Shift your perspective. Imagine your company as one giant beach ball, where every employee is occupying a different colored “stripe” and experiencing reality from their own unique vantage point. As a leader, your main objective should be to make the right decisions for your organization, rather than be right. In order to do so, you must accept that while your “truth” about the company is valid and important, it is not the capital “T” truth. Rather, every individual owns a piece of the truth and it is essential that you look outside of your own viewpoint to understand as many stripes on your beach ball as possible. Only then can a solid decision be made based on ground truth.

Clarify the issue. Once you’ve acknowledged that gathering differing viewpoints is useful, the first tangible step toward making it happen is to provide clarity around the issue or opportunity you are evaluating to the team members included in your meeting. Key points to share are:

    • A summation of the issue/opportunity. (Try to name it in one or two sentences)
    • Why it is important. (What is at stake to gain or lose)
    • Your ideal outcome. (What specific results you want)
    • Relevant background information. (Key data points or history)
    • What you have done up to this point and options you are considering.
    • What you want from the group. (I.e., critique of current plan, identification of consequences, confidence in decision)

    Assemble your beach ball. Now that you have a clear understanding of the issue and surrounding details, look around your company and determine whose insight/perspective would be valuable in your decision-making process. Remember, the objective is to gather diverse viewpoints, rather than those that share the same perspective or are likely to agree with you. Invite who would be affected by your decision: other departments, the naysayer, a new employee, or even a customer! Be creative. And remember, a weak leader wants agreement. A strong leader wants the truth.

    Hold the meeting. Assemble the team you’ve chosen and recap the key data points from Step 2. (Note: It’s always a good idea to send the information well in advance for those who may need to absorb or do more research.) Tell each member that they have been invited to this meeting not to agree with you, but to push back and/or provide their perspective on the issue – especially when it differs from yours. As you hear from each person, resist the urge to defend your position and remain open and curious. If you don’t understand someone’s insight, ask questions such as, “I really see it differently, could you tell me more about your perspective? I want to understand how you see this.” Through it all, make sure you’ve heard from each person. Internal processors may need to be invited to share their voice. Have each person write down the answer to the question, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” Ask that they write their name down on the paper and thank everyone for coming. Finally, let everyone know what your next step will be.

    Report back with your decision. Quite often, your beach ball meetings will not result in an immediate decision but, rather, a follow-up step or time to process. Once you have made your decision, let everyone know what it was. In the end, it allows everyone insight into your decision-making process, shows respect for their contribution, and lets them know how their perspectives played a role in the decision.

    Leaders who provide their employees the opportunity to participate in high-stakes decisions not only improve their own decision-making skills, but also exponentially increase employee engagement. Family businesses should take special care to actively demonstrate inclusion to ensure the future of their business and employee morale.


    Halley Bock is the CEO of Seattle-based Fierce, Inc., a leadership development and training company that drives results for businesses by improving workplace communication.








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