Make Better Team Decisions With The RICIE Model
Team decision-making hasn’t always been fun for me.
I am impatient. I think I have the best ideas. I want people to take fast action. I forget that other people have opinions.
That’s what sits underneath the surface. And in situations where I haven’t been on my game, that comes through hard. Especially when I was on a team and not leading the team.
I remember several experiences at different companies where I would identify a problem that needed to be solved. I’d come up with an amazing pitch, get a bunch of internal buy-in, and then present it to the boss. Rarely could I get through a single slide of my deck before the whole thing blew up and went down a path that I didn’t design. It drove me crazy, and seldom did I walk out of the meeting thinking that I was the one with poor decision-making skills.
I’ve matured a little (a little). The RICIE Model is now what I’m employing in my team right now to make daily decisions in a more inclusive way. I want to make sure that everyone’s voice gets heard and so that I (as the leader) don’t steam roll my team’s ideas (still practicing).
I learned the RICIE Model in my MBA course work at Indiana University’s Kelley Business School, and the model itself has been rigorously tested and has an evidenced based track record of successful decision-making outcomes. The following information is cited directly from my course work in the Leading Organization’s class. I provide a small amount of personal commentary in places where I don’t think I’ll contaminate the evidence based research.
Here’s the outline:
- Recognize and define the problem
- Identify multiple plausible solutions
- Choose a course of action
- Implement the solution
- Evaluate and measure the results
Recognize and define the problem
The status quo feels pretty good when things are going right, but as soon as things go wrong, or you hit a road block, it’s decision time. This may seem obvious but recognizing there is a problem is the first step.
Obvious, sure, when you’re reading an article, but not so obvious when you’re white-knuckling your way through life wondering why you’re so exhausted, why things aren’t firing on all cylinders, and why you’re not making enough money.
So when an issue rears its ugly head, you have to recognize and admit that it exists. But don’t wait for your own genius to spot the problems. Empower your team to speak up. Let them know they are all first class citizens, and it is well within their rights to say something when there’s a concern.
You may even appoint a rotating devil’s advocate to point out blind spots in your operations. But do make sure it’s a rotating assignment. No one likes a perpetual stick in the mud.
Leaders have blind spots. They create policies and invent systems to fill gaps where they can’t be the one to make an on-the-spot judgement. Often they do this without evidence. Blind spots make leaders prone to biases working against progress, such as, confirmation bias where the leader has a belief, and they just can’t see anything that contradicts that belief. They may even actively search for evidence that only supports their ideas. Thus, they cannot “see” the problem staring them in the face.
Another bias that stands in a leader’s way is Availability Bias, where both decision-making and problem discovery is blinded by limited available information or only the information that is easy to recall or spot.
These biases are why leaders need other team members to help them recognize problems. Leaders are often not close enough to the problem to be aware of it, and other times they are actually too close to the problem and can’t see the forest for the trees.
Empower your team to be problem spotters. In my book, Sprint, I tell a story in the introduction about two 747 airplanes that collided into each other in the 70s. Everybody on both planes died. It was a tragedy, one that prompted procedural change to empower even the lowest man on the totem pole to speak up if they saw any concern whatsoever. When I onboard my young apprentices, I let them know, “You made it through the interview process, so you are one of us, that makes you a first class citizen, and you have a voice at the table.”
For many leaders, it’s easy to make a quick decision, and your people will follow because you sign the paycheck. But when the stakes of the challenge are raised it’s important to slow down, avoid reactive decision-making, and be inclusive. After all, if you’re the only one making decisions, you’ll never build a team that can function without you and soon enough, you’ll see just how limited your own potential is.
Identify multiple plausible solutions
The world becomes much richer and more vibrant when we accept the truth that there are multiple plausible solutions. Often, solutions, that have similar cost to benefit ratios. The beauty of accepting that there are multiple ways to crack an egg is that it takes the pressure off of making a “right” decision.
The perfectionist will agonize over getting everything just right. The fragile ego guy will crack in two if his idea isn’t the one to rule them all. Whereas the truth is that people just don’t have to live like that if they can live with different ways being acceptable.
A way, however, needs to be selected. You can’t live in indecision, and you don’t want to rush a big decision without evaluating options. The more options on the table from diverse thinkers, the wider array of perspectives and possibilities come out.
When seeking out solutions, it’s important as the seeker to not get too attached to the solutions you find. You want to treat the process as a general inquiry rather than picking a horse to bet on. When we advocate for our ideas, our emotions tend to take over, and they make healthy debate turn into a toxic attempt to bend wills. It’s a recipe for gridlock and hurt feelings.
Instead, try to cultivate a culture where ideas are consecrated to the group. Ideas aren’t capital, they are social. Once the idea is released from your mouth it no longer belongs to the individual, it belongs to the group and the group gets to keep it, leave it, or tweak it.
When you become emotionally detached from your own ideas, this allows for the level of rigor and objectivity that is necessary to examine a solution and to stress test its design. Look for evidence of its effectiveness. Gather all the solutions together and deliberate as a team.
Avoid brainstorming sessions during this process. Brainstorming is riddled with problems as a technique for making a decision. For one, brainstorming sessions are expensive. There is a lot of payroll in one room, and not every individual is going to be an active participant.
Extroverts, bosses, and white men tend to dominate the conversation and steer it in directions without the influence of the more introverted critical thinkers and minorities, who tend to see things from a different and valuable perspective. Black men and women, in particular, tend to be more reserved in brainstorming sessions to avoid appearing as more angry than they are when they voice their opinions. Women tend to share less when they are in a group setting.
Groupthink is also a consequence of brainstorming. The conversation tends to get anchored around the first idea that gets put onto the board, and every other idea becomes a derivation of that initial idea. When the outspoken and domineering types are at the helm of the brainstorm, the less vocal tends to go along with it in the meeting, but secretly they are crying out “No! Anything but that!” Then they go back to their offices, steaming about the direction the meeting went.
Instead, try something like the Nominal Group Technique. Have each person write down their view of the problem and proposed solution. You can facilitate a discussion about each idea to help strengthen their presentation, or you can just leave it as is. Then, take all the different ideas and merge duplicates, and bunch similar ideas into categories. Tally the duplicates and ideas in similar categories and rank them in order of occurrence. As a group, rank the ideas by strength and choose the highest ranking idea.
Choose a course of action
Now the group must make a decision. Is this feasible? Do you have the money, time, and ability to realize this solution? Will it be effective and garner the results you’re looking for? If you put your eggs in this basket, what if they get dropped? Are their contingencies? What other consequences are there?
Making a choice as an organization can be difficult. If you have personalities on the team that are tough, it can be hard to come to a complete and final decision. For each decision, it’s wise to decide beforehand how this decision is going to be called. Will it be up to the manager or another delegated individual? Will it be a consensus vote where majority wins? Will it be a unanimous vote?
A general rule of thumb is the greater the stakes, the more necessary full unanimous buy in is. But be aware that if you want quick decisions, a unanimous vote is anything but quick. It’s usually better for one person to make that quick decision when time is on the line and the stakes are maybe a little lower.
Where teams get stuck with decisions is where too much bias is influencing decision-making. Watch out for confirmation bias, where people are only looking for solutions that prove their pre-existing beliefs. Watch out for anchoring bias, where more cunning individuals are shooting for the moon, knowing secretly that they’d be fine with something much more conservative. Watch out for escalation commitment and sunk-cost bias, where you feel like you’ll suffer a loss from switching courses because of all the previous work and money that’s went into the project. Be aware of availability bias, where you’re only going off of information that’s easy to recall and you’re not fully investigating.
If one person is dominating the discussion, and you notice that quieter voices aren’t being heard, maybe press pause and go to each individual and ask them their opinions in a free and open environment. Let them unload without chiming in or challenging them. Just let them speak and get it all out. Then go to the dominators and do the same thing. Let them get it all out too. Then with each, let them know that you’ve heard them, that you have to consider everyone’s opinions, and that it doesn’t seem like we’re going to come to a unanimous decision. You’ll either have to go with a consensus or make the final judgement yourself. Do your best to honor their opinions, but ultimately make a choice and stick with it. The only thing more frustrating than not getting what you want from a leader is having a leader who can’t make a decision. Making the final decision will signal to your team that the race is over, and they’ll feel relieved that they don’t have to keep deliberating.
With the final choice in hand, display it on a board so that everyone can see where they made an impact on the matter. Sometimes it’ll look more like a patch work quilt, other times it’ll be more uniform; what matters here is that the choice is strong and that there is enough buy-in to get it across the finish line.
Implement the solution
Now that you’ve reached consensus, it’s time to implement the idea. Assignments are critical to implementation. Whoever is involved at the decision-making table has to walk way with an assignment for their part.
Where teams make mistakes is that individuals, with good intentions of being helpful, often take on assignments that are beyond the scope of practice. You’ll always have people on your team who are willing to step forward, just as you’ll always have people on your team who feel like they already have too much on their plate. That may even be giving them too much benefit of the doubt. Some people are just social loafers who never raise their hand. Your job as the leader is to make sure that the assignments are distributed fairly and in accordance with each person’s scope of practice.
“Good people work for two years to develop a new policy. It’s unveiled with great fanfare in a big meeting with overhead projectors, PowerPoint slides, and what have you. The big boss appears and blesses it. “It has my full support,” he solemnly says. Everybody gets a policy memorandum…and that’s the last we hear about it.” -Peter Drucker
The assignment carries weight because the implication is that the individual assigned will be held accountable for that job getting done. Don’t forget to put a deadline on the project getting done.
As people are working, it will be tempting for them to make little tweaks and alterations to the plan as they go. We want to maintain fidelity of the solution by seeing it through to completion. The time for evaluating and shifting comes later. As much as it can be an issue for those being assigned implementation tasks to make little changes (especially if they aren’t bought in), the more egregious offenders are the leaders themselves. Leaders are notorious for leaving a meeting with a plan of action and doing nothing or not doing anything anyone planned. They go maverick! It’s not good.
Offices that feel like a constant whirlwind and where things are always changing, and they’ve got a million different half-baked projects are usually running that way because the leader doesn’t follow their own rules. They keep jumping from fire to fire and idea to idea. They skip the decision-making process and prioritize the things they want to accomplish. It’s maddening. As a result, the whole team suffers and the leader doesn’t know why.
Leaders who have a biased toward action need to acquire a taste for slowing down. Allowing things to marinate and slow cook generally produces more consistent results. It’s hard to mess up something in a crock pot, and it’s easy to char on a high heat grill.
Build systems around the change. I like creating checklists and workbooks with step-by-step instructions so that my people can just follow the plan.
We’ll often discuss small issues in our daily stand-up meeting, and often the solution is a simple checklist. I take input, review it, then distribute a few test samples on individual sheets of paper. When the crew tells me it’s useful, I figure out a way to get it embedded into our manuals and planners.
Evaluate and measure the results
Continuing on with Mr. Drucker’s quote, leaders can’t put up the mission accomplished banner without continually evaluating the results and pausing to ask if the right decision was made.
Even before you begin implementation, have a plan for evaluation and check points along the way.
Measure the performance while it’s happening, but be careful not to overload your team with too many KPIs and metrics. Keep it simple between 3–4. That may seem a little tight, but more than that and your people will forget what’s most important. We have a tendency with metrics to focus on the wrong ones and end up doing gymnastics to try to hit the target by any means necessary, even if it’s unethical or a reduction in quality. Picking three will also help you decide what really matters most in your business.
A pitfall that many leaders fall into is that they fail to follow up with the results. This is, again, where you get a lot of half-baked projects that never reach the finish line because the leader’s modus operandi is to call an audible at the line of scrimmage every play. It’s just a recipe for disaster. Make sure that you put on your schedule that you are going to follow up at the time of the deadline.
If you’ve solved the problem adequately, operationalize it, and make it a play in your company playbook. Run that play again and again whenever similar problems arise.
When there is a major challenge in your business, it doesn’t have to be life ending. Problems just are. But don’t forget the most important part of decision-making when it comes to problem-solving. The idea is that you learn from it.
This article was written based on course work from the Indiana University Kelley Direct MBA class, Leading Organizations, with Professor Ernest O’Boyle. The author, Torlando Hakes is an MBA Grad Student at Kelley as well as CEO of Craftsman Painter, Inc. Torlando is also author of the book Sprint found on Amazon.com and host of the PaintED Podcast. Craftsman Painter is a multi-location interior painting and design company in Bloomington, IN, Louisville, KY, and St. Louis, MO; with a vision to expand to 100 locations over the course of the next 10 years. We are always on the lookout for painters, designers, and affiliates to join us on our path to 100 locations.