Improve collective decisions by overcoming “group grope”

Dick and Emily Axelrod waited until they had developed the perfect methodology for effective meetings before publishing Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

Rather than simply contribute to the “noise about meetings,” they waited until they had something new to say. They present what they call a “seismic shift (not a set of tweaks) in the way you view, use and participate in meetings.” Let’s Stop gives you a logical system that will help you restructure your meetings so that work gets done; everyone is engaged and respected; the meeting is energizing rather than draining; and time is valued, not wasted.

Today, we wanted to highlight the meaty part of every meeting: decision making. The entire group must be clear about the following items to make a decision: who is making the decision, how they will go about deciding and what they are deciding.

The group will bring different levels of engagement based on if it is giving ideas or collectively making the decision. Clarity of the process will prevent frustration caused by believing one way (e.g., the group will make the decision) and discovering the other (e.g., the leader is actually making the decision) is happening.

Do you want your group in the loop?

Leaders can either make the decision, seek advice from the group but maintain the final say, work as an equal with the group, or delegate the decision to the group and let the group decide. Victor Vroom, BearingPoint Professor of Management and a professor of psychology at the Yale School of Management, along with Phillip Yetton, suggests that if there is clearly one right answer and people will accept it, make the choice yourself. “If, however, you need a high-quality decision and you need everyone on board with the decision, then you should shift toward a group decision-making process” (Vroom and Yetton 1973).

Overcome “group grope”

Because a group decision requires each member to resolve his/her logic and emotions, the authors give four ways to combat group grope (when a group has trouble making a decision):

Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down: This is used to see if you have spent enough time discussing an issue. Majority rules to end or continue the discussion.

Voting: most effective after a high-quality discussion where all views are represented. The group can decide if it is majority/two-thirds, etc.

Put on your Thinking Hat to Answer these Questions: What are the facts that surround this proposal? What is your gut reaction to this proposal? What are your pessimistic thoughts about this proposal? Why won’t it work? What are your optimistic thoughts about this proposal? Why do you think it will work? How could you build on this proposal and make it even better? What conclusions can you draw from this discussion? All these questions cover the areas needed to resolve emotions/reason and optimism/pessimism.

Don’t try to eat the meal in one bite: Decide what you can agree to right now. Move ahead on some parts and create time for further discussion on the others.

Then, you need to identify the next steps and who is responsible for each step. The leader can appoint people, ask for volunteers, or appoint a task leader and ask for volunteers to join the task group.

When we asked the Axelrods what was most important about their meeting framework, they responded, “Clarity about the decision process is critical to success. In his review of Let’s Stop Meeting Like This in INC magazine, Ilan Mochari said it best when he said, “If you’re holding a meeting to canvas the opinions of your staff–but you know there’s a strong chance you’ll disregard those opinions–let them know early on. The deception of democracy bothers them more than the transparent absence of it.”

Ask yourself if your meeting topics genuinely merit group effort or if you’re better off simply updating the group about your decision and rationale. If you do enlist the group, enhance the process by enlisting the authors’ strategies for overcoming “group grope.” Learn more about all of the Axelrods’ effective methods for getting more done in meetings.

See also:

World Cafe: Shaping Our World Through Conversations That Matter

Death by Meeting

Image credits: ronkitchens.com, psychologoies.com, thedecisiongroup.com, nicosteyn.wordpress.com

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