Breaking Free Of Endless Discussion Loops
When should you escalate from a discussion to a document?
We’ve all been there. Those Slack conversations that go on and on. Person A keeps chipping in with tangential info. Person B keeps responding with how that info doesn't solve the problem. Person C keeps forgetting the context. Person D asks why they haven’t been consulted and on … and on ….
Conversations like this can easily turn into huge wastes of time. They don’t make progress so they simply serve as a distraction and source of pointless context switching for everyone involved.
It’s for this reason that we often advise leaders to set a ‘doc-time’ protocol for converting this kind of discussion into a document.
Typically, we recommend that, if a group of people have been hammering away as above for more than about 30 minutes, someone should trigger the ‘doc-time’ protocol. In fact, doing so should be part of a group’s working agreement. Without such a policy, people will often assume they’ll be seen as difficult or obstructive if they try to interrupt a lively but ultimately fruitless conversation.
It shouldn’t matter who calls for the switch from live discussion to written exploration. Indeed, the point of having a protocol like this is to make it psychologically safe for anyone to invoke this system. It’s a safety net and so it’s important that everyone knows how and when to deploy it.
As to the document itself, though each situation will undoubtedly be unique, we recommend starting with the following sections…
Context including a very clear problem statement. Don’t worry if there isn’t complete clarity on the problem statement. The document should help to drive that clarity.
Why does this problem matter? What is the impact? Why should people care?
Who is involved? This should include the leaders, team members, customers, and anyone else who is pertinent to the problem and who might be affected by a solution. For bonus value, actually mapping the people to their respective roles can be a helpful addition.
What has been discussed and/or tried already?
What alternatives have been proposed?
How will any decision be reached? In other words, is it clear who owns the decision? Will there be a process for gathering feedback? Should anyone have veto power over the decision if they deem it unsafe or too risky to proceed? Etc.
Above all else, teams often get into a conversational mess because clear ownership is lacking. So the cultural heart of this policy is that anyone should feel empowered to step forward and drive this process regardless of their level of apparent authority over or connection to the subject. Moving forward is the priority.
So, in the name of both empowerment and effectiveness, try establishing a ‘doc-time’ protocol to help your team deal with wandering conversations in an ego-less and systematic manner.