Here’s how to use a simple sketch of a tree to help you and your team nut out what sort of decisions everyone should be making, to help build trust and efficiency.
A good friend of mine once said that a team is running well when it’s moving at the speed of trust (which is a classic Stephen Covey line). I’ve always found that trust at work has so much to do with how a boss delegates work, and empowers team members to make decisions themselves. Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter is a huge help in this area.
Easy to say, but hard to do, right? If you’re a manager, how do you free up your team to make decisions without you getting in the way? Or how do you try to change the behaviour of a micro-managing boss so that they will trust you more?
Sketch a Decision Tree
One way I’ve found that really helps is (surprise surprise) a simple sketch of a tree. More specifically: a Decision Tree . The Decision Tree is from Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations, and looks a bit like this:
Go ahead and sketch a tree yourself . Think of your project, your team, or your company as a tree that grows and bears fruit. For this tree to thrive, countless decisions are made every day, week, month and year. But there are different levels of decisions:
- Leaf decisions – Make the decision and act on it. You don’t need to report the action you took. There’s no real risk here.
- Branch decisions – Make the decision, act on it, and then report the action you took (daily, weekly or monthly). There might be some risk, but it can be mitigated.
- Trunk decisions – Make the decision, but report on the decision to check before you take action. There could potentially be high risk of harm to the project, team or company.
- Root decisions – Make the decision with input from other people. There could be great risk of harm to the project, team or company if these decisions are poorly made and/or implemented.
Example: if you yank a leaf off a tree, the tree isn’t going to die. In the same way, a ‘leaf decision’ poorly made won’t really impact the company. But if a wrong action is taken at the root level, it could really damage the tree.
Different sketches can show different types of decision structures
Try sketching Decision Trees to emphasise different types of decision-making situations (good or bad). Take a look at these examples. What do you think each one might mean?
How to use the Decision Tree in your team
The Decision Tree has four uses I can think of:
- A way to figure out autonomy – To help you and your team think about and clarify what levels of autonomy are appropriate, so that everyone knows exactly where they have authority to make decisions and take action.
- A way to chart professional development – To help articulate clear paths for professional development. The more senior an employee gets, the more their decision-making power moves from leaf to branch to trunk level.
- A way to free up senior management – To help senior management release control appropriately, and develop grassroots leadership within the organisation. This frees up senior management to focus on the more strategic decision-making, while providing more learning and development opportunity to employees at various levels.
- A way to help a team work better together – To help a team and/or management articulate where team dynamics and leadership feel wrong (micro-management, anyone?), and where changes can be made in how decisions are made and acted on.
Here’s an example way to use it in your team
Do you manage people? Are you a project manager or product manager? Here’s a step-by-step way you might want to try using the Decision Tree in your team:
- Draw the Decision Tree on a whiteboard, and use the Root / Trunk / Branch / Leaf structure to describe the four different types of decisions to your team.
- Get everyone to draw two trees: the first one according to how they think decision-making is done in the team/organisation now, and the second one according to how they would like it to be. This is an easy (and sometimes comical) way of helping everyone to articulate what they think, where words sometimes don’t come easy.
- Get everyone to show the trees they drew. Are there any trends or similarities in the way the trees are drawn, or any glaring differences? What does this say about the team’s perceptions about how decisions are made, and how they’d like them made? Discuss specific examples of decisions to help keep things specific and useful.
- Finally, discuss what specific actions can be taken, to change the situation to be more favourable.
As always, I’m keen to hear if and how you use this sketching technique, or any other techniques on the Presto Sketching website.
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1 I should say that this Decision Tree sketch is different to the boxes-and-arrows decision tree drawings you might have seen before, which are still great for analysing decisions and outcomes.
2 I probably wen’t overboard a bit on mine (above); a simple bunch of lines is completely fine!