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Go Broad Before You Go Deep

| January 25, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Have you ever been in a meeting to make a decision and before the context can be outlined, a few meeting participants have taken over and are going deeper and deeper into a solution based on a suggestion of one of the individuals?  Today’s reading, ”Go Broad Before You Go Deep,“ from Roger Schwarz’s Fundamental Change Newsletter and found below, considers just that issue.

Schwarz suggests that when this happens, people feel stuck and often are unable to reach a decision that all can support and act on together, and which may well be better than the one being pursued by a sub-set of the participants.  

The author argues that to get the better, well considered decision you need to first bring the entire group to an understanding of the issue and get their initial views of the problem on the table.  Only then will you get everyone engaged and be able to go into the details of a specific solution.  

His full argument, which I think you’ll find helpful, follows.

Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim


Go Broad Before You Go Deep

How often do you have a meeting in which your team needs to make a decision and yet only a few people are talking? By the end of the meeting, you have no idea what many of the team members think, yet the decision still needs to be made. You feel stuck. What can you do differently to reach the best decision, one team members can support and act on together?

One way leadership teams get stuck is when they go deep without first going broad.  Going deep means following up with a team member on what they said, to learn more detail about that particular person’s thinking. Going broad means finding out what others think about what one of the team has said.

Let’s say your team has just started discussing whether to temporarily stop shipping a product because of quality problems. You ask the team members what they think and Sheena responds first saying, ”I don’t think the problem is serious enough to warrant a stop shipment.“ Going deep is asking Sheena to further explain her thinking, such as, ”What leads you to say the problem isn’t serious enough?“ Going broad is asking others to share their response to your initial question or to Sheena’s answer. For example, ”What do others think about whether we should stop shipment at this time?“

Go broad before you go deep. If you begin the meeting exploring an issue by going deep with one person, you may learn a lot about what that one team member thinks, but other members quickly begin to get frustrated or bored and you may lose their attention. And, the deeper you go with that one team member, the farther you may get from the original topic.

If you start by going broad, the entire team will quickly understand what all team members’ initial views are, and you will have more information to decide where to go deeper. 

By going broad before you go deep, you learn all team members’ views, you keep team members engaged, and you dive deep into details only after identifying where a deep dive is a valuable use of  time. Effective teams cycle through going broad, then deep, then broad and then deep again. This ensures that as the team gets deeper into exploring the causes of a problem and the potential solutions, the entire team is moving together. 

–Roger Schwarz

Written and edited by Roger Schwarz, copyright Roger Schwarz & Associates, 2010. All rights reserved.”) <>