Decision Making 101: Leadership Meetings

by Jay Clark, Associate District Administrator, School District of Holmen, Wisconsin

Decision Making 101

Effective Agenda for Leadership Meetings: D1, D2, D3

Have you ever had the experience of someone repeatedly asking for your advice, but never taking it? Frustrating! The experience leaves you feeling devalued, having wasted your time and breath.  The root cause of such a negative experience often lies in the lack of clear intent by the person asking for advice.  Without clarity of intent, you had no idea the person didn’t want help making the decision, they had already done that.  They only wanted your help figuring out how to deal with the related impact of their decision.

Leadership teams can experience this same type of frustration. When this frustration exists, leadership teams underperform.

In the School District of Holmen, Wisconsin, the vision for our leadership teams is “Leading Together.” Effective meetings are key in aligning our behaviors with our vision.

Decision Making Protocol

How we align behaviors with vision is a two-step process:

Step one: Identify agenda items as either “information” or “decision.”

Step two: Designate a “decision” item as “D1”, “D2”, or “D3.”

The “D” designations are:

  • “D1” – This topic is decided. I am providing information and want feedback on how best to implement the next step.
  • “D2” – This topic is being decided now. I want input before I make a final decision.
  • “D3” – This topic is being decided now, by us. We will use a consensus-building protocol.

Our meeting agenda protocol honors participants’ time by sending it out a few days in advance so they know how to prepare. Participants then know the level of engagement expected in the decision-making process.  This clarity makes for a very effective use of our leaders’ time and creates a culture of learning.

There have been varying descriptions of each of the three “D’s” since we started using it in 2006, but the message remains the same.  We use the “D” designation to clearly state on the agenda, before the meeting starts, what level of involvement the group will have in the decision.

This simple designation avoids team members mistakenly engaging in a level of conversation inconsistent with the intent of the agenda item.  This avoids the natural disengagement that results when team members think you are not accepting the input they are providing.  Once the team members know the type of input you are looking for, they can provide input with laser focus on what you need.

Advice for Using Decision Making Protocol

The advice I would give for someone adopting a similar approach can be found in a metaphor from farming.  Prepare the soil before planting and harvesting.  Asking the people in your group to have ownership before you begin this process is key to your success.  You want to avoid addressing the symptoms of the problem because participants become disengaged.  When people own and can connect to the “why,” your soil is ready for planting.  As a result, team members describe meetings as making them feel valued and respected to make decisions.

Final Tip

Lead together, promote respectful behaviors and optimize the effectiveness of leadership team time.  When we don’t make the best use of our leadership meeting time, we rob those we serve of the limited leadership time we all have.

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Laura Swann, Studer Education℠

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