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How to Get Groups to Agree

The goal in group decision making is to ensure that the group makes the best decision they can; based on all the information they have; as quickly as possible; with the right level of participation and commitment. However, often this goal is not achieved. Many decisions made in groups are neither thoughtful nor inclusive.

Group decision making takes time and is not appropriate for every decision. Including people in decision making will strengthen their understanding of the rationale for the decision, build commitment and produce better quality decisions.

One word of caution - if you have a complex or critical decision to make across a large or challenging group, use the services of a professional facilitator. Group dynamics can be challenging, and the following points are designed to help you work with a group more effectively, not train you in professional facilitation. (If need to make complex or critical decisions with large groups or there are diverse opinions and challenging dynamics bring in a professional facilitator to manage the process and support the leadership role.)

1. Clarify the Decision Making Model

The leader must decide whether this decision requires complete consensus across the group, majority rule, or just feedback from the group. No one decision making model is optimum for every decision or group. Whatever model is selected needs to be explicit, so that all team members understand what is expected of them.

2. Lead the Group

As the leader your behavior and values will drive the culture and actions of the group. You need to ensure that you model the behavior you want to create and that clear ground rules are established and adhered to. Some typical ground rules are - we will start and end our meetings on time, we will leave our personal agendas outside this meeting, we will be open to new thinking, we will communicate respectfully, we will keep our commitments.

3. Follow the Group

One of the challenges of leadership is to maintain the right balance between leading and following the group; between command and control and abdication of responsibility. Getting the leading/following balance right requires practice and awareness. During team meetings share your leadership role with the group by regularly taking a back seat -allowing you to focus on understanding group dynamics, listening to the group, and letting the group lead you. This approach builds empowerment, but you also need to balance this with a more directive leadership style when it is required.

4. Manage Process and Content

Groups move slowly, and individuals within groups move at different paces - some faster - others slower. As the leader you need to help keep the group on track from the perspective of process as well as content.

5. Believe in the Capabilities Your Team

Be enthusiastic and supportive throughout the process. It is likely that at times the group will get stuck because nothing seems perfect/acceptable, or the group cannot reach agreement. This "groan zone" is a normal part of the process and just acknowledging its existence, will help the group persevere, move forward and converge in their thinking.

6. Manage Participation

Don't let one or two people dominate the discussions. If you want consensus and understanding across the team, you need to ensure that everyone 's opinion is solicited and listened to. One way to achieve this is to set an expectation that everyone manage their own "airtime". In addition make sure that you bring in others who have not contributed and encourage full participation.

7. Review Pros and Cons

Once all the potential solutions have been identified, discuss the pros and cons of each solution with the group. This will build understanding and expand peoples thinking around each alternative solution or approach.

8. Define Decision Making Criteria

If the group gets stuck, take some time to identify the criteria by which the ideal solution will be selected. This discussion will reveal how people are evaluating potential solutions and bring structure to the discussion.

9. Make a Decision

No decision is ever going to be without its down side, so eventually a decision needs to be made. Make certain that you always end your discussion with an agreed upon outcome. If necessary you need to "agree to disagree" and commit to a specific action.

10. Agree a Communication Plan

Make sure that everyone leaves the discussion with a consistent understanding of the agreed decisions and actions. The decision needs to be clearly articulated, convincing and succinct. Any action should be specific and have clear ownership and time frames. In addition ensure that you agree how any decisions, that impact other people, will be communicated to them.

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