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In the classic group problem-solving meeting model, a major turning point occurs when the meeting process shifts from generating ideas (the “anything goes,” divergent phase) to developing workable solutions (the debugging, answer-seeking, convergent phase).  Determining which ideas should be turned into solutions is critically important, of course— and that decision process has broader implications for the consultative salesperson every time he/she makes a business decision affecting the team, and maybe her/his client’s team, too.

Here’s how ideas are chosen for further development in problem solving meetings:

  • Problem Owner makes the decision alone.  Here, the group generates the ideas, but doesn’t contribute to the selection process.  An obvious advantage of this option: the “PO”— who must carry the solution forward and “make it happen”— will surely be comfortable with her/his own choices.  Meetings about issues in which the PO has unique expertise, or is solely responsible for the consequences, or is especially strong-willed (!) often take this path.
  • Problem Owner makes the decision, with group input.  Here, the PO takes counsel from the group and its collective knowledge and judgment before deciding for himself/herself.  (In this case, the participants may rank or vote for their favorite ideas, anonymously or openly, and tabulate the results for the PO.)  The advantages of this additional input are apparent— which is why so many meetings go this route.
  • The group makes the decision, with Problem Owner input and oversight.  This is a very democratic, team-oriented process; it’s especially appropriate in situations where the group, collectively, owns the problem more that any single individual, including the leader.  The development of client presentations sometimes follows this path, with the sales team leader making decisions while pulling together the team members’ contributions.

A fourth potential option— the group makes the decision, without regarding the PO— isn’t emphasized here because it’s very risky and (therefore) rarely chosen.  No PO wants to be “stuck” with a decision from which he/she has been excluded; further, a leaderless group may not be able to converge on a unanimously acceptable solution (although that works, if a listing of ideas is the PO’s only meeting objective).

Let’s connect all this to managing a sales team.  Many sales team leaders have a habitual, “automatic” decision-making process— whether derived from selling skills training, or not.   Even if it’s usually successful, that process may not be right for this particular situation and circumstances, this particular time; (e.g., a team leader should beware the consequences of bulldozing through her/his internal operations decision that the team members don’t genuinely support).

Maybe the best thing about the decision-making process described above is that it requires conscious, considered evaluation every time, for each new problem or opportunity.  Wouldn’t the few moments the sales team leader takes to “decide how to decide” prove to be time well spent?

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