As I write this post, I am sitting in a hotel room in Anaheim, California preparing to lead a Bud to Boss workshop. In the process of looking over my notes and thinking through the planned events tomorrow, I started reflecting on a meeting that I facilitated for a client in Indiana last week. The events of this meeting reminded me of a vitally important issue that affects group decision making dynamics:
Until people talk through their perspectives to the point that they feel heard and understood, they will find it difficult to come to a collective decision that they can all live with and act upon.
There where 18 powerful leaders from across the state of Indiana in this meeting – business leaders, educational leaders, and leaders of not-for-profit organizations. Eighteen people with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different view points, and strong opinions.
This organization is facing some pretty stiff challenges in both funding and organization. Each of these leaders is committed to the survival of the organization, and they each have different views of what their collective future looks likes.
In preparation for the meeting, I put together an agenda with a structured process designed to allow the time necessary to talk through issues with an eye towards driving decisions and commitments rather than just talk.
As we began the meeting and I led the group through the initial discussion steps, I could feel myself getting anxious. I began to get worried that we would spend too much time talking and not enough time deciding.
Remember – I built the agenda, and I started to get frustrated with the process.
And then, near the end of the meeting, we did an exercise designed to identify and rank obstacles the group needed to face in reaching their desired future. Quickly, in less than an hour, we listed, ranked and developed specific action plans for overcoming their biggest challenges.
It took us nearly four hours to reach the point that we could make a group decision. Four hours of talk about different perspectives and viewpoints so that we could drive to a conclusion in just a few minutes.
And that's the observation that reminded me of the lesson I mentioned above.
The talking, even though it felt slow to me, was a vital part of the overall process. I'm pretty sure that if we had tried to rush or bypass those steps, we would not have been able to come to the final decisions with the unanimity of purpose and perspective that we did that day.
I believe that the process we used supported the group in coming to a conclusion, and the time to talk it out was a big part of the final success.
The next time you lead a group problem solving session, make sure you allow the time necessary to let everyone have their say. The time you invest in the process will come back to you many times over in the increased energy and productivity that the meeting generates.