Make Meetings Matter

Articles by Charlie Hawkins



Getting Everyone to Agree in Meetings - The Impossible Dream?

by Charlie Hawkins, MBA

 

Getting everyone to agree in meetingsWhen it comes to making decisions in groups, there is no perfect method. Each has trade-offs, in the quality of the decision, the time it takes and in the commitment that group members have to the decision.

In this article, we'll review the most common decision-making methods in groups, and some of the strengths and drawbacks to each.

Individual

This is common in groups where a single person – usually the boss or group leader – makes the decision. It is usually the fastest, simplest and clear way to decide something. The main drawback is that it often wastes the brainpower of the group, and doesn't do much for motivating people to contribute. There are times when an individual decision is the best choice – when time is short and a decision is needed, for example. If the building is on fire, you don't want to have the group consider the pros and cons of clearing out. If done in a group situation, individual decision-making has the advantage of everyone hearing it at the same time. Other than that, it really doesn't involve the group.

Consultative

In this method of decision-making the leader or boss makes the decision after hearing opinions from group members. It can be faster than other methods, and input from others helps the leader see different sides to the issue. Participants may also feel valued for their contributions and opinions. In the end, however, the leader is the one who makes the decision. This method is perhaps the most time-effective of the methods where the group is involved, and can enable a better quality decision to be made. In reality, most leaders make little attempt to work through concerns or incorporate all points of view, which leads to inevitable frustration on the part of group members whose advice is not followed. At worst, they could sabotage the decision after the meeting.

Unfortunately, leaders who already have their minds made up sometimes use the model of this method, simply to let the group or team think they are involved. The boss says something like: "I really want your ideas," when she really means: "I want you to tell me how good my idea is." If this is the case, the leader should be upfront about the intent.

Consultative Consensus

This is a "middle-ground" method, utilized by leaders who genuinely want to hear different sides to an issue before making a decision. It takes more time than the previous methods, and can produce higher quality decisions. Because group members are involved, they are more likely to support the ultimate decision. In this method, the leader asks other group members for their advice and input, and seeks to build consensus by addressing concerns and coming to a decision that everyone can live with.

To make this work, the leader must be skilled in facilitation, or utilize a neutral facilitator. Otherwise, it could be seen as manipulative.

Modified Consensus "PCIS"

This is my preferred method of group decision-making, because it tends to produce high quality decisions that are supported by all group members. Using this method, group members express positives and concerns about an idea or proposal, and then work on the concerns to forge a solution that everyone in the group is willing to live with and support. The "PCIS" is committing to work on the concerns, rather than just expressing them…more about PCIS later.

Having stated my clear bias, I will admit that building modified consensus takes time, especially if the concerns are complex and need to be worked through. If overused, the modified consensus method might seem a little mechanical.

What is PCIS? It is my acronym for Positives, Concerns, Ideas, Solutions. In most groups, expressions of dissent or concern often come out as barriers without resolution. If you hear objections such as: "it stinks," or "the sales force won't be able to use it," you will recognize this issue. Even more specific concerns, such as: "it'll cost too much," or "we don't have the infrastructure to support it," can present roadblocks that will stop an otherwise good idea in its tracks.

Using the PCIS model, the facilitator asks each group member to express any and all positives for the idea or proposal, even from those who do not seem to support it. After all the positives are listed, each person is asked to voice any concerns, expressed as "how to," "how can we" or "I wish" statements, which helps to specify the concern.

Example: Instead of saying "it costs too much," turn the concern into a problem to be solved by stating: "how can we find funds to pay for it this year?" or "I wish we could find a sponsor to pay for this program."

When all concerns have been listed, the facilitator turns the group's focus to generating ideas that address them, one by one. At some point, a solution is likely to emerge from the ideas, and the facilitator asks the group if the concern is solved.

Once the major concerns have been addressed, the facilitator probes the group for their level of support for the proposal as modified. Questions such as: "is everyone satisfied with the proposal as it now stands?" and the converse, "is there anyone who can't live with the proposal as it is now written?" are key. If everyone in the group is satisfied with the solution as modified, and is willing to support it, then consensus has been achieved.

Absolute Consensus

Absolute consensus is the most time-consuming of all decision-making methods. The test for absolute consensus is that everyone agrees unequivocally with everything in the proposal. It should be used only in special circumstances when total agreement is required, such as when developing an organization's mission statement. Like modified consensus, it works best in a small group, with no more than 7 to 8 members.

The key difference between absolute and modified consensus is that modified consensus allows for the possibility that not everyone in the group agrees 100% with the proposal, but is willing to live with it and will support it. The trade-off is the time required to "work" a proposal to the point of 100% agreement may not be worth it. Also, there are no guarantees that a group will achieve absolute consensus after attempting to achieve it. So it is wise to have a back-up method of decision-making after an agreed-on time period.

My experience has been that utilizing the PCIS model to work through and solve the concerns often yields absolute consensus anyway.

Voting

"All in favor, say 'aye'…all opposed, 'no'…any abstentions? By a vote of 8 to 3, the 'ayes' have it; the motion passes." After a vote like this, the board or committee presumably moves on. An action was taken – in this case a vote – and the majority supported it. End of story? With luck, yes. After all, this is the manner in which government bodies, supreme courts and thousands of other organizations make decisions. What could be wrong with it?

The main problem with voting is that it sets up a "win/lose" situation. Even if there are only one or two dissenters, any person not voting with the majority has the potential to undermine the decision of the group. What seems to be a "done deal" can backfire when post-meeting comments are spread around, or when dissenters act in more subtle ways, such as passive-aggressive behavior.

Voting is used less in business organizations, but remains in widespread use in non-profit organizations. Often, voting is embedded into the by-laws, which require strict adherence to a method such as Robert's Rules of Order. Without getting into an analysis of parliamentary procedure, my observation is that such rules are not well understood, and often cripple groups rather than help them. When I suggest alternative decision-making methods to non-profit groups, most welcome the change. One way to make meetings less tedious is to use (say) a modified consensus style of decision-making throughout, then vote at the end of the meeting to approve all the decisions reached.

Summary

Getting everyone to agree may seem like an impossible dream, yet it is possible. The most effective method I have found is to work toward modified consensus, using the PCIS – Positives, Concerns, Ideas, Solutions – model to identify and work through concerns.

In practice, most business meetings run with a less formal structure than any of the methods described above. When it is time for action, either the leader makes the decision (individual, consultative or consultative consensus) or the group makes it by head-nods. Effective meeting leaders and facilitators often utilize some form of the two consensus questions ("is everyone comfortable with…" and "are there any concerns with…" ) to test the waters. When everyone is comfortable with the proposal, there is no need to prolong the discussion - consensus has been achieved.

 
 
Make Meetings Matter - book by Charlie Hawkins

About the Author

Charlie Hawkins facilitates business round tables, strategic planning retreats and idea generation sessions for businesses and nonprofit organizations who want to improve their results. He is the author of Make Meetings Matter, a comprehensive resource for anyone who wants to plan and facilitate more effective meetings.

Charlie Hawkins
 

Copyright © 2008-2017 Charlie Hawkins. All rights reserved.