Do You Have Debate Deficit or Decision Deficit – Or Both?

Many teams are very good at identifying and setting aside time to discuss and debate, and to make critical decisions about a big challenge or a big opportunity. And some aren’t.

We generally see two different themes in companies, depending on their culture:

  • A debate deficit when they don’t take the time to debate issues and they build up, over time, like clutter in a garage
  • A decision deficit when they often discuss and debate but can’t come to decisive conclusions.

Both can result in wasted time, compounded and cross-contaminated problems and missed opportunities.

While decision-making isn’t always simple, it is so much easier with preparation and scheduled, structured discussions. Here’s what we’ve seen work well:

  1. Make the time

Carve out 30 to 60 minutes to leverage the collective intelligence of key people, in weekly, monthly, quarterly or additional project meetings.

  1. Define the question

Be very clear on what needs to be decided.

Determine who is responsible for the decision and who needs to participate in the debate.

  1. Prepare the information

Provide background and context:

  • Data to back up the issue/obstacle
  • Why it’s important: The impact, economic and otherwise, on the business (or parts of the business) and customers
  • The probability of success
  • Risks, dependency, timing and the needed investment
  • Potential risks: legal, financial, disruptions.

Anticipate questions that will be asked and ask your leader for help, in advance.

Information can be in a PowerPoint, a one- or two-page document or spreadsheet. Whatever form you take, the information must be clear, disciplined and enable a structured conversation.

  1. 20% data, 80% discussion

Ask one person to present the context and data in 20% of the time, then ask the smart brains in the room to discuss and debate for the other 80%.

Alternatively, ask the group to read the data in advance and then get right into the discussion, or give people five or ten minutes to read it in the meeting to make sure everyone’s up speed.

  1. Make the decision

‘Call the question’ (Robert’s Rules of Order): Ask for a decision to move ahead.

When everyone agrees, and you can make the decision, and move forward.

When everyone doesn’t agree, you often need to employ the strategy of ‘agree to disagree’, for the greater good. Those who don’t agree will stay silent and be supportive of the decision, to move forward.

And sometimes, more data, discussion or debate may be necessary.

Document the decision that was made and inform all relevant people, outlining next steps.


  • Use timers to avoid time overruns.
  • Make sure all and just the critical people are in the room.
  • Follow rules for debate.
  • Use a facilitator when necessary.

The Challenge

  • What are the top three decisions that you need to make?
  • What structure do you have to put in place to get them made quickly?

Want to hear more? Listen to Episode 121 of The Growth Whisperers.

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