The good thing about formal authority is that it’s clear who makes the decisions.

Good practice says take the temperature, ask for counsel, weigh up the evidence and options, gather the team and work for agreement. If you find it, great, if you don’t, make a decision and march forward.

Great stuff.

But when there’s no clear decision maker?

50:50 founders with no deadlock clause, external partners fighting over treasure, two sides of a friendship-deal that’s got bigger than the handshake.

You say left, they say right. You’ve tried everything. What happens next?

Not so great.

No decision … is always bad. No one wins, everyone loses.

This is the fate of middle-ground arguments: not trivial enough to not care, not large enough to get demand resolution. Not dealing with the decision means the opportunity dies, or worse, limps along on life support, losing energy, everyone turning their attention to easier ground.

Nil sum … someone wins, someone loses.

For the sake of progress, or a clear head, someone walks away from the argument. It’s how most small disagreements get solved – one side decides it’s not worth fighting about, “I don’t care, paint the door any colour you like.”

When the stakes get higher, it’s harder to walk away. As emotions flare and heels dig in, lawyers start rubbing their hands over the fire.

Plus sum … find a bigger game so everybody wins.

Nil sum is based on scarcity. Plus sum needs an abundance mentality. “If we can’t agree on this relatively small issue, let’s see it as part of a bigger deal where the values are easier to determine?” The reality: finding a plus sum after a breakdown is rare.

When it’s a slow motion train wreck, there are no easy answers and too often, no answer at all.

The best thing is never to hit the buffers. Don’t become one more story.

Skippy Strategy: Make sure all sides, all the time, are always aware of their contribution and benefit from every deal. Shine light on the shadows and avoid grey areas.