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Taking the bias out of meetings
Make sure the right people are involved
Create the right atmosphere
Ensure diversity of backgrounds, roles,
risk aversion profiles, and interests;
cultivate critics within the top team.
Invite contributions based on expertise,
not rank. Don’t hesitate to invite
expert contributors to come and present
a point of view without attending the
Make sure predecision due diligence is
based on accurate, sufficient, and
independent facts and on appropriate
Request alternatives and “out of the
box” plans—for instance, by soliciting
input from outsiders to the decision-
As the final decision maker, ask others
to speak up (starting with the most
junior person); show you can change
your mind based on their input;
strive to create a “peerlike” atmosphere.
Encourage admissions of individual
experiences and interests that create
For the portion of the meeting where a
decision is going to be made, keep
attendance to a minimum, preferably
with a team that has experience making
decisions together. This loads the
dice in favor of depersonalized debate
by eliminating executives’ fear of
exposing their subordinates to conflict
and also creates, over time, an
environment of trust among that small
group of decision makers.
Consider setting up competing fact-
gathering teams charged with
investigating opposing hypotheses.
Encourage expressions of doubt
and create a climate that recognizes
reasonable people may disagree
when discussing difficult decisions.
Encourage substantive disagreements
on the issue at hand by clearly
dissociating it from personal conflict,
using humor to defuse tension.
The biases that undermine strategic decision making often operate in
meetings. Here is a menu of ideas for running them in a way that will mitigate the
impact of those biases. Not every suggestion will be applicable to
all types of decisions or organizations, but paying attention to the principles
underlying these ideas should pay dividends for any executive trying to
run meetings that lead to sounder decisions.
Dan Lovallo and
On the cover: Seeing through biases in strategic decisions
Manage the debate
Before you get going, make sure
everyone knows the meeting’s purpose
(making a decision) and the criteria
you will be using to make that decision.
For recurring decisions (such as
R&D portfolio reviews), make it clear
to everyone that those criteria include
“forcing devices” (such as comparing
projects against one another).
Take the pulse of the room: ask
participants to write down their initial
positions, use voting devices, or ask
participants for their “balance sheets” of
pros and cons.
Use the premortem technique to
expand the debate.
Commit yourself to the decision.
Debate should stop when the decision
is made. Connect individually with
initial dissenters and make sure
implementation plans address their
concerns to the extent possible.
Monitor pre–agreed upon criteria and
milestones to correct your course or
move on to backup plans.
Counter anchoring: postpone
the introduction of numbers if possible;
“reframe” alternative courses of action
as they emerge by making explicit
“what you have to believe” to support
each of the alternatives.
Pay attention to the use of comparisons
and analogies: limit the use of inappro-
priate ones (“inadmissible evidence”) by
asking for alternatives and suggesting
or requesting additional analogies.
Force the room to consider opposing
views. For vital decisions, create an
explicit role for one or two people—the
Conduct a postmortem on the decision
once its outcome is known.
Periodically step back and review
decision processes to improve meeting
preparation and mechanics, using an
outside observer to diagnose possible
sources of bias.
Dan Lovallo is a professor at the University of Sydney, a senior research
fellow at the Institute for Business Innovation at the University of
California, Berkeley, and an adviser to McKinsey; Olivier Sibony is a director
in McKinsey’s Brussels office. Copyright © 2010 McKinsey & Company.
All rights reserved.