At Yarno we're moving towards self-managed teams. Which is the idea that people in cross-functional teams decide what they work on and who they work with to get the work done.
My interest in this concept was sparked when I read Reinventing Organisations in February this year. It's an insightful exploration into how people and organisations have traditionally structured themselves (usually top-down, what the boss says goes), and how a few organisations are bucking this trend and giving their people the autonomy and accountability to organise themselves (crazy!).
I shared my excitement with the team and encouraged all Yarnoers to read the book too. Then we got together to talk about if and how we could make self-managed teams work at Yarno.
It was apparent early on that to facilitate this new world order, everyone at Yarno needs to make their own decisions. I asked myself: why can't most people make most decisions in a traditional top-down manager-servant organisation?
I think part of the reason is that the manager has the information and context to make decisions, while the people "underneath" them lack one or both of these things. And so they're reliant, by design, on the manager to make decisions for them. Another reason is that information is power, especially in a large and political organisation where a competitive culture can erode trust, and mistakes are punished.
Sharing information requires trust in the people you're sharing with. Trust that they'll do the right thing with it and won't use it to advance their career at your expense. And trust that people who aren't perceived as "leaders" in an organisation can make real-life adult decisions.
Why a decision template
So it was clear to me that for self-managed teams to succeed, every Yarnoer needs to make their own decisions. To do so, they'd need information and context, to feel confident to make the decision. And we'd need a consistent approach for making these decisions; hence the decision template was born.
I should point out that as knowledge workers, we make a lot of decisions every day. The gauge for knowing whether to use the decision template or not is simple; does this decision impact other Yarnoers? If so, use the decision template.
As an aside, I've personally used a decision template for decisions outside of work for over 18 months now. And I love it. I've used it to help me decide:
- Where to put my superannuation
- If I should use a financial advisor
- If I should continue with intermittent fasting
The benefits I've experienced are many:
- Writing everything down that's in my head about a decision has a funny way of bringing clarity. It reduces the noise in my head, the constant ping-pong of should I or shouldn't I.
- Seeing my thoughts written down often highlights gaps in my knowledge about the decision. It encourages me to plug those gaps by doing more research, reading, speaking to people with expertise in that area.
- I realise how many assumptions I'm making, that in my head are black and white facts, yet in reality, are far more nuanced. Marking a statement as an assumption is liberating in a way. I don't feel as hemmed in by it.
- Encourages me to list out expected outcomes and % certainty that they'll happen.
- Returning to the decision six months later to see how accurate my assumptions and outcomes were. This benefit alone is worth the effort.
I originally got the idea for a decision template from an excellent Farnam Street post. And I've since modified it to suit me better.
Ok, back on track.
How it works
If anyone in the Yarno team would like to make a decision that will impact a fellow Yarnoer, then they fill out the decision template. In the past few weeks we've used it to decide:
- If we hire a new Junior Customer Success Manager;
- If we purchase Tuple (a pair-programming tool for developers);
- If we stop tracking our time (using a time tracking product called Harvest).
What I like about the decision template
Do the work and write it down
It encourages individual Yarnoers to think hard about the decision, rather than asking a fellow (often senior) Yarnoer on the fly. Selfishly I was fatigued by being asked to make hundreds of small decisions each day. I didn't feel I was the best person to make the decision because I didn't have all the information or context. Though to be fair, there was no viable alternative. Enter: decision template!
Who's impacted by this decision
Having to follow this approach forces you to consider how badly you want other people's input. You can't just catch someone in the kitchen, download everything that's swimming around in your head for 5 mins and ask for their opinion, hoping for some brilliant insight.
If you're going to ask people to invest time in providing input on your decision, then you feel compelled to respect their time by giving them the information that they'll need.
I find it illuminating to read someone else's thoughts and how they arrived at a decision. It signals to me how well they understand the factors involved. And if they've done the work to have an opinion and confidently make a decision.
This may sound strange since introducing a step of writing everything down takes more time. However, once that's done, everyone involved reads the same information and can add their own thoughts and opinions straight into the document. No more conversations scattered across multiple mediums, everything is in one place.
It allows Yarnoers to make their own decisions. Decisions they've never made before because they weren't senior enough or didn't feel qualified to make. Decisions on things that may have been frustrating or annoying them, that they felt powerless to change.
Decide where to spend money
Spending company money is traditionally a managerial function. Why? We're changing that by asking Yarnoers to do the work in thinking about a decision, and in return, they're accountable for both making the decision and the outcome. Sound scary? It may be, but in my experience, that's usually where the gold is.
The template itself
I've included a copy of the template below. The questions in the decision template are:
- What do you want to make a decision about?
- What's your rationale for making this decision? Include any background to the decision that will give context.
- What assumptions are you making? Think carefully about these as they may not be immediately obvious. Anything that you're fairly certain about is probably an assumption.
- What's your desired outcome?
- What alternatives have you considered?
- What could go wrong if you do make this decision? Think in days, weeks, months, years.
- What could go wrong if you don't make this decision? Think in days, weeks, months, years.
- What do you need from other Yarnoers and/or the business in order to make this decision? May be their time to review, their help in the hiring process, their help with onboarding, $ for a new subscription, etc. If it's $, list out the costs as you understand them, along with cost savings and ROI (if relevant).
- What at Yarno will be impacted by this decision? List out their names and be sure to share this doc with these Yarnoers, and ask for their input.
- Who at Yarno has expertise in this area? List out their names and be sure to share this doc with these Yarnoers, and ask for their input.
- Reviewed by If you reviewed this decision, please add your name, date reviewed and a summary of your position (happy to proceed, qs about xyz, concerned about abc etc)
- Result: What was decided, on what date
Tips for filling out the template
Let some time pass
I try to practice Daniel Kahneman's (renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics) advice to slow decision making down, especially if I feel strongly about it. So I like to fill the template out and then let 24 hours pass before reviewing it again.
Beware of confirmation bias
It's easy to look for evidence to support an opinion I already hold. This is confirmation bias, and I do it all the time (as does everyone). It feels good to grow support for something I already believe, rather than look for evidence to disprove it.
The aim of the template is to have fewer decisions made by one person, and more by those affected by the outcome of the decision. The theory is that if you're the one going to be affected by the decision, you're more likely to make the right one since it's you who has to deal with the ramifications. For us, this practice seems to be working out. So maybe, now, it's your turn to try.
Lachy heads up the Product team at Yarno. He's our resident rationalist and ideas man. He also reads way too many books for our liking.
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