Templates are a wonderful thing. Used properly, they speed up the production of Board and Committee documents and make them easier to read.
But…as documents flow upwards in the organisation, there’s a danger that the filtering which reduces the volume of detail to manageable levels, and helps with template “fit”, may inadvertently cause problems.
Group-think can arise partly through the innocent, space-saving suppression of contrary opinion. And facts presented to support an apparent consensus may be edited down, ostensibly for length; actually through innocent, selective recall.
Together these may create a false impression of consensus amongst executives, and challenging that – in the face of no apparent evidence to the contrary – becomes difficult for non-executives, thus creating an atmosphere in which group-think can flourish.
Allowing leeway on space and template use; actively encouraging conflicting material to be aired; and better drafting of documents in the first place, should allow for richer consideration of matters.
The middle way problem comes in two varieties. The use of RAG traffic lights for status reporting often shows a cluster around Amber, as it’s a natural, safe choice for matters that are not clear-cut. However, a sea of Amber is pretty meaningless and can disguise the true state of affairs, as few matters are genuinely equidistant from either extreme.
Instead, you might consider the use of the Red, Red/Amber, Green/Amber, Green method. This has no mid position and so forces executives to think harder about the actual state of affairs and thus reports produced using this approach tend to be much more useful.
The second problem is the practice of offering a choice of three options on matters put forward for decision (again, on the grounds of space available, template design or convention). Although much better than suggesting a single solution, a choice of three can unconsciously encourage executives and non-execs, simply because of human nature, to tend to select the middle option.
Instead, a choice of four or six alternatives might be encouraged, as this both eliminates the centre ground and allows for a wider range of scenarios (particularly those including more pessimistic outcomes than enthusiastic executives might wish to countenance) to be available for discussion.
Again, templates and guidelines may have to be altered to accommodate this.