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Most meetings on critical issues feature discussion and decisions. But consultant Kim Scott believes you need to divide those two elements into separate meetings, even if they seem to naturally go together. And if you can turn that discussion into debate, you’ll be even better off.

The idea came to her two decades ago when she was running her own software company and realized people were angry about how long the weekly meetings were taking. Worse, those not coming to meetings felt guilty and left out. “I also noticed that very often when it comes time to make a decision, people who are in a position of power grab the decision even though they don’t have the knowledge necessary,” she says in an interview.

She tightened the weekly meetings by taking the decisions out of them, instead identifying during the session a few vital ones that would be tackled later in the week. Anyone could attend, but because people hated meeting, only those involved with the issues being considered would show up.

But there was still frustration: Half the people were there to make a decision while the other half were coming to discuss and debate issues. “The debaters were mad that the deciders were rushing into a decision and the deciders were mad that the debaters were talking endlessly,” she recalls.

So she separated those elements into two meetings, each contained to 50 minutes. People could choose which, if any, session they would attend. She would announce who would be the decider on each topic, preferably not her. “People had more fun at these meetings and we had debates that were more collegial but also more radically candid. People cared about each other but they really challenged each other hard. We made decisions that tended to stick. And we made them on time – usually better decisions,” Ms. Scott, now a consultant and author of the book Radical Candor and forthcoming Radical Respect, says.

Extra meetings, of course, can mean extra time. But she counters that “decisions by fiat are fast and wrong.” And that costs more money. Making bad decisions slows things down. Making decisions before people with the relevant data have been invited into the decision creates bad decisions. She also feels this two-meeting approach – which she used with people she subsequently led in stints at Google and Apple – creates an opportunity for more collaborative and effective teams.

The people closest to the facts are now making the decisions and she believes that “your job as a leader is to push decisions into the facts.” Decisions can also involve several different groups within a team and they need to bring their different facts to the table.

Creating the separate spaces for consideration of issues and announcing topics in advance – rather than jamming them into one weekly staff meeting, where they arise serendipitously – also signals the importance attached to discussion and decisions. It creates a more collegial, less frantic atmosphere, so people who might be obnoxious or others who don’t speak out can both contribute better. If discussion isn’t finished in the initial meeting and there is time to hold another session that is done. “Yes, it is a little bit slower and it does take a few more steps, but it’s the only way I know of to help a group of people make better decisions,” she says.

We think of debate as having winners and losers, so shy away from using that term at work, preferring the term discussion. But she feels we need to be less conflict averse and see debate as the process of sharpening ideas.

At Apple, people were encouraged to come to meetings with data and not recommendations because if they had formulated a position their ego might harden them into defending that preference. People have to come to the meetings eager to work together to the best solution.

A large organization might bring this approach in at various levels, the executive suite having debate and decision meetings for issues it is facing while teams in marketing or personnel hold their own sessions for issues they face. She recommends just one set each week, which retains focus on the key issues. Limit it to no more than three topics each week, which the leader chooses at the weekly meeting, along with the decider and the deadline.

Her role later in the week was to make sure everyone got a chance to speak and bloviators were shut down. “The people who love debate will debate endlessly. It’s really important to have a debate, but it’s also really important to end the debate,” she says.

At decision meetings, people who think they are relevant to that decision should attend. “People can’t say ‘I was left out of that decision.’ Everyone relevant is invited,” she stresses. The decider is what Apple calls a DRI – directly responsible individual – and that person is not usually a formal leader but a regular contributor. The decider should begin by indicating which way they are leaning. People can then try to change that decision or should forever hold their peace and join in implementing that course of action.

“At Google there was this notion that great ideas come from everywhere. It was exciting to work in a place where individuals made the big decisions about what they were working on. When I say push the decisions into the facts, the fewer decisions the leader makes, the better,” she says. She feels the two-meeting arrangement brings those facts together in a way that the best decisions can be made.


  • Even the creators of the artificial intelligence large language models do not really know what these systems are capable of, notes Wharton School Professor Ethan Mollick. But there is increasing evidence they can exceed human performance at human tasks. One area where that could happen is negotiation and persuasion.
  • Most hiring focuses on recruiting from the unemployed. But recruiting specialist John Sullivan points out most people are employed, so that’s where you should look, just like sports teams do when seeking a mid-season replacement. Candidates are likely to be up-to-date on current practices and attracting one from a competitor is a big bonus for your company.
  • Atomic Habits author James Clear asks: Is the tough decision you face actually complicated or is it really quite straightforward, but you’re making it complicated because it requires a lot of courage to make the straightforward choice?

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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