By Stephen Balzac
May 24, 2012
As a kid, I liked watching the old Bela Lugosi Dracula movies. The movies were more than a little formulaic, but still fun. Each one would begin roughly the same way: after a series of mysterious murders, disappearances, and other strange happenings, Our Hero would figure out that Count Dracula had somehow returned from the grave. Naturally, everyone else would laugh at him because as they, and the audience, knew perfectly well, Dracula had been thoroughly killed off at the end of the previous movie. Someone might also make the token objection that vampires don’t exist, but no one ever took that objection seriously. Our Hero would persevere, though, and after much debate and argument, eventually convince everyone that the Count was, indeed, once again walking the Earth. Finally, in the very nick of time, Our Hero would successfully drive a stake through Dracula’s heart, or expose him to sunlight, or the Wolfman would tackle him and they would fall together out a window into the raging surf hundreds of feet below, or some other equally melodramatic ending. Afterward, everyone would relax, confident in the knowledge that this time Count Dracula really was dead once and for all. This time, for sure… at least until the next movie.
I frequently hear a variant of this story from my clients. No, they’re not talking about Count Dracula per se; rather, they are talking about making decisions at their companies. No matter how thoroughly a topic is debated to death, and no matter how often teams make decisions on which way to go, the topic reappears in the next meeting. There’s always some purported reason: “We didn’t follow proper procedure,” or “I forgot to include this really important piece of information,” or “It’s not fair that Bob wasn’t here,” or “I didn’t understand what I was voting for,” or, “How about another Dracula flick?”
OK, maybe the last one doesn’t come up all that often. The actual reasons don’t really matter anyway: they’re all about as hokey as the reason why Dracula didn’t really die in the previous movie. Dracula returns because the audiences and the producers want him back; similarly, the decision returns from the grave because people want to bring it back. In this way, even apparently simple decisions can return again and again, sucking up time and energy like Dracula sucking blood. It isn’t long before a mundane meeting turns into an event to be anticipated with mounting horror, or at least a strong sense of dread.
Make decisions that stop returning from the grave
While this problem is particularly prevalent with leaderless, or self-managed, teams, it is hardly unique to them. The real question, of course, is what to do about it. How do you make decisions stop returning to roam the hallways like Dracula returning from the grave?