0 comments on “Quick & Easy Consensus Decision-Making”

Quick & Easy Consensus Decision-Making

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.
Excerpted from his book The Infinite Organization

Consensus decision-making has the reputation of being very time-consuming. It needn’t be if the steps outlined below are followed. The failure of most supposed consensus procedures result from failing to ask those objecting if they are willing to accede to the proposition work even though they are not in full agreement with it.

Groups make decisions in several ways: Authority-based decision-making is used in many organizations where the ranking organizational manager decides after hearing the group’s discussion of the issues. A variation of the authority-based decision occurs when two or three outspoken group members decide by agreeing among themselves and not being challenged by other group members. Consensus-based decisions are established through collective (but not unanimous) agreement. Many groups attempt consensus before defaulting back to authority-based decision-making. That default occurs when the attempt at consensus turns into an attempt at unanimity. That need not happen!

Many studies have documented consensus-based decision-making as the process which gives the highest quality decisions. The quality of consensus-based decision-making is high because it best collects and synthesizes the wisdom and knowledge of the group’s individual members. Consensus-based decision-making also contributes to groups being safe, conflict competent, and well-informed. Why not use a decision-making process consistent with the reason for groups to exist in the first place? Reiterating, the reasons for using a group are:

  1. The size and complexity of most organizational goals can be accomplished only by several people crossing functional areas working in concert.
  2. A level of effectiveness and creativity is needed that can come only from synthesizing differences.
  3. There are several stakeholders invested in the decision.

Consensus-based decision-making is most likely to produce desired results. It also supports effective and efficient implementation if the group is constituted. People readily support and implement what they have invented. When those responsible for making a decision are together with those will implement the decision—these are the “invested stakeholders” of item 3 above—successful implementation is virtually guaranteed.

If consensus-based decision-making is so effective at creating high-quality decisions, why do so many organizational managers default to less effective decision-making processes? Consensus-based decision-making has the reputation of being frustrating and very time-consuming. I have seen countless groups work at consensus-based decision-making only to screw up on the sixth of seven steps. The steps are:

    1. Generate and explore a range of proposals regarding the issue at hand. Be sure that everyonehas the opportunity to be heard.
    2. When a substantial percentage of the group seem to be leaning toward a particular proposal, it is time to check for consensus.If you’d like to test whether the group is leaning toward a particular proposal, ask for a quick show of hands. If most of the hands go up, you’re on target. If you’re not go back to step 1.
    3. Check to be sure that everyone understands the proposal the same way.This will save a lot of time. It is very frustrating to discover just as you’re about to finish the process that there are very different ideas floating around about the proposal’s meaning.
    4. Check with each person whether they are in favor of the proposed decision.Do not allow further dialogue during this step unless questions of clarity arise.
    5. Ask each person notin favor to state the reasons for their opposition.It is very important that those not in agreement feel that have been heard and their thoughts considered. As often as not that is all any person not in agreement may want. Allow for dialogue that is focused on understanding the person’s concern. Often the concern will turn out to be a misunderstanding. Often the concern, once understand, leads to a valuable modification or addition to the proposed decision.
    6. If the person’s concern was not resolved, ask if s/he is willing to proactivelyhelp make the proposition work even though they are not in full agreement with it.This is where many organizational leaders allow their consensus-building process to fall apart. They simply do not ask: “Are you willing to proactively help make this idea work even though you are not in full agreement with it?” The answer most often given to this question is, “Of course” or some variant thereof.When the question is not asked, the group will quickly get stuck trying to convince the person to change their mind. This gets frustrating. Trying to convince someone to change their mind with no new information or point of view being offered is futile. What was a consensus-building process has become an attempt at a unanimous decision. The perception, that consensus-based decision-making is frustrating and time consuming, is in error. The error comes from having what was a consensus-based decision-making process become a unanimous decision-making process. The latter is frustrating and time consuming.
    7. If a person feels strongly enough about their objection to be unwilling to support the proposed decision after steps 5 and 6 have been followed, the point being made may be important enough to warrant further exploration. In my 40 years of working with teams and groups in organizations, this has never happened.More often than not, the problem lies with the group not understanding the objecting person’s point. Once clarified, the objection is often used to modify or add to the proposed decision as in step 5. Less often, further exploration leads to a better understanding by the person objecting.

Consensus decision-making can be quick and easy if you stick with the process described! And, you’ll have better decisions that meet less resistance when it comes time to implement!

Learn more about creating great teams and organizations. Sign-up for my new online program “Creating Great teams and Organizations Intensive” starting Septemer 7. It’s based on the highly successful Triple Impact Intensive that Edie Seashore and I ran for 16 years. The Center for Human Systems is offering significant discount for initial pilot program. Click to check it out at chumans.com/intensive or email me at michael@chumans.com.

MichaelMichael is an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for coaching and consulting for yourself or your organization!

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO

Center for Human Systems

CHumanS.com

michael@chumans.com  ~~~  410 730-1601

0 comments on “Making Interventions Sustainable”

Making Interventions Sustainable

Dominoes building

You used all of your skills to move your team from being dysfunctional to one with a high level of productivity, full engagement of all team members, and they even had some fun together. But will your success last? Will they revert back to dysfunction when you can’t be there? Did you built in the mechanisms to make your changes sustainable?

People and their human systems can revert back to habitual, automatic behaviors very quickly. So how do you make the change sustainable? This question always reminds me of Kurt Lewin’s three stages of change: Unfreezing (loosening the current state of a system), creating the change you want, and refreezing (stabilizing the system around the changes). Here are two core ways to make your changes Last: Accountability and Structure.

Accountability

Three basic steps in organization development for working with clients and their teams are:

  1. Creating a set of consensual agreements about what they will do to solve whatever problems they have identified.
  2. What they will do to keep those problems from coming back. And,
  3. What they will do to accomplish their goals. That’s all well and good, but it leaves the question of how to assure that those agreements will be kept. Many a member of a client system has said they’ve been to too many retreats where all kinds of optimistic agreements were made only to have them ignored the following week.

Accountability is a key way of making agreements stick. As often as not, issues of accountability, or rather its absence, turn out to be key systemic issues. A core example often pops up as a complaint in large bureaucratic organizations and often in wealthy organizations (both tend to have a good deal of budget flexibility): poor performers are rewarded with less work and good performers are penalized with more work. In such cases both sides of accountability are at play just in a “bass-ackward” way. The preferred use of accountability is to reward good performers and penalize the poor performers after positive support has proven to be ineffective. Many employees complain of a lack of accountability in their organizations. Accountability, seen as consequences, is really never lacking; whatever we do or don’t do has consequences. However, when they are not accompanied by clear intention, the results can be counter-productive.

Accountability as consequences has a lot to do with operant and classical conditioning: Behavior that is rewarded continues and behavior that is not rewarded disappears. Likewise, behavior that is penalized tends to be avoided. If agreements are to be kept and associated behaviors to stick, to last, they need to be rewarded just as not keeping agreements needs to be minimized. To accomplish this, I ask them what they will do when someone breaks one or more of the agreements they have developed? When that discussion is complete, I ask what they will do for those who keep the agreements? This set of conversations is often quite uncomfortable particularly when there has been a pattern of ignoring agreements condoned through inaction.

The discussions about accountability that I have with my clients before any team meeting are important. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, people tend to do what their leaders do. If their leaders keep their agreements, their followers tend to do the same. Also, leaders (in official positions) are the purveyors of official organizational accountability from promotions, bonuses, awards, and recognition through to the actions of progressive discipline. My client and I talk in depth about their willingness to use as needed the accountability mechanisms their position has afforded them. For some accountability has not been a strength. In such cases we discuss how they will garner the support they need from their boss and human resources.

The keeping of agreements is core to refreezing a system around the changes desired. There are many people who keep agreements from some set of personal standards. There are also many who will have a multitude of reasons for not keeping agreements unless they are held accountable for keeping them.

Structure

Structures create and maintain stability in almost any arena. The underlying structures of a building or bridge, its skeleton of steel or reinforced concrete, provide them with a sustainable strength that only the most devastating of circumstances can transcend. Likewise, the laws and values of a society provide boundaries of acceptable behavior without which societies would fail. The same is true of organizational structures.

The structures that maintain organizations are enforced rules of behavior which define who may enjoy employment within it. Such rules are formal and informal. The more the two are in sync, the more transparent the rules will be. Included in formal rules are an organization’s written policies and regulations. Its informal rules are enculturated behaviors that may or may not be congruent with the formal structures. In a dysfunctional organization there is too much latitude for dysfunctional behavior. For example, the #me-too movement has exposed the dysfunctional behavior rampant in many organizations that have caused harm to significant numbers of female employees. Such harm will always harm the organization as well.

Creating new healthy structures starts with the agreements created in the team meetings discussed above. Such agreements are themselves structures describing behaviors that the team has agreed will effectively move them toward their goals. As those agreements are reinforced, they become group norms and even part of the organizational culture. The stronger the reinforcement, the more the desired behaviors will stick. Imagine a team regularly discussing how well members are sticking to an agreement about proactively supporting each other.

Such informal feedback structures would go a long way to support the agreements being kept. The more such conversations are a consistent, therefore, structural part of group meetings, the better. The more such conversations are as frequent as discussions about other important organizational issues such as sales and production, the better. An agreement that team members will proactive support each other that also became codified in employee handbooks, personnel policy, performance evaluations, and job descriptions, all in sync with the accountability mechanisms described in the first part of this article, will be a change that will stick.

A large part of the success of my practice as an organizational development practitioner lay at the feet of supporting my clients to create the accountability processes and structures needed for sustainable change. Make it a part of your practice. Sustainable interventions make for a sustainable practice!

There is always more to learn about creating great teams and organizations. One way to significantly deepen your understanding and skills for working with organizations and teams is to sign-up for my new online program “Creating Great teams and Organizations Intensive” under development for a Fall start. It’s based on the highly successful Triple Impact Intensive that Edie Seashore and I ran for 16 years. The Center for Human Systems is offering significant discount for initial pilot program. Click to check it out at chumans.com/intensive or email me at michael@chumans.com.

MichaelMichael is an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for coaching and consulting for yourself or your organization!

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO

Center for Human Systems

CHumanS.com

michael@chumans.com  ~~~  410 730-1601

2 comments on “Two Ways to Create Safe Teams and Organizations”

Two Ways to Create Safe Teams and Organizations

An important key to having great teams and organizations is their sense of safety. Their members feel free to speak, to dissent, to be radical, and even outlandish. This freedom is key to having high levels of productivity, engagement, and creativity. In so many organizations and teams such freedom has been stifled. Cultures and norms of group think, submissiveness, and ennui develop when team members sense that being different is risky or useless. What a waste of human capital, of human energy, of human beings!

Here are two ideas I’ve found useful toward creating an environment of safety in teams and organizations. Both level the playing field where those involved see each other as human beings rather than boss and subordinate, sales and manufacturing, or some other form of more power and less power.

The Leader Goes First

The leader of the organization or team must be willing to show herself or himself as a human being with all the feeling, warts, and fallibility that all human beings have. Many leaders are reluctant to show their humanness at work believing they should appear strong and invulnerable. However, in my 40 years as an organization development practitioner, I’ve not met a leader who wasn’t eventually willing to open upgiven enough coaching and support. The importance of the-leader-goes-first stems from the tendency for people to follow their leaders for better or for worse. Leaders who are willing to be without the artifice of position or authority will find their people willing to be without artifice with them. The leader who only feels safe behind some particular image of superiority will be followed by people who also minimize how they will present themselves.

I was working with the CEO of a good-sized behavioral health organization who wanted his executive team to be more proactive and creative in responding to the ever-changing vagaries of government regulators and funders. “They’re always look to me for what to do rather than coming with their own ideas,” was his complaint. He suggested that I work his team without him present believing that would be a key to their opening up. Instead, I said that he not only needed to be present but also must be willing to acknowledge that he was part of the problem. I also suggested he ask his team what he needed to do to be a more effective leader. He was quite taken aback: “Won’t they lose respect for me if I admit to that?” I asked him to imagine how he would feel if his boss asked him for how she could improve her leadership. He said he would admire and respect her for that. I sat with him until he grew accustomed to the idea. We did have to work through his concern that the meeting would turn into a bitch focused on him. Notice hissafety issue surfacing. After assuring him that myjob included not allowing that to happen as well as supporting him to stay focused if his defenses went up. With that, he agreed to see if his being more open would support his team in being more forthcoming.

The meeting we scheduled with his team to do this work was typical in its progress. He was open and honest about the team he wanted them to be and his sense of having failed them. As agreed, he requested feedback about how he could be a better leader since his own ideas had fallen short. The request is met with a profound silence.

I facilitate such silence in a couple ways: One is wait it out until some extravert or courageous person breaks it. What they actually say doesn’t matter more than getting the ball rolling. If the wait gets too long even for me, I point to someone and say you first, then we’ll go around the table until we’ve heard from everyone. That invariably get us started albeit slowly. The pace picks up as it is noticed that those that have spoken up have been listened to and respected. Conflicts that have been around for a while surface and are safely worked through.

Gradually the meeting turned into an open, free-flowing conversation as they negotiated what they wanted from him and what he wanted from them. My facilitation focused on keeping them listening to each other, moderating the pace, and checking for consensus. The more people felt heard, the more they felt respected as human beings rather than positions or roles with their attendant power dynamics. When we are heard and respected as a human being, we listen to and respect others as the human beings they are. In a dysfunctional team or organization, it is the leader who must go first.

The Big Share

I learned this exercise from Edie Seashore. I often use it prior to the leader-goes-first exercise to make it easier for everyone. The seven questions below are the heart of the exercise. I may add other questions relevant to the team at hand, but the seven are sacrosanct. It takes five to ten minutes a person when used with an intact team of ten or so people. In stranger groups where the risk is less two to three hours can be needed. Interruptions and questions are not allowed. I also suggested everyone be conscious about what they choose to share and not share. Finally, I admonish them not to share anything they want no one to know­

  1. Where were your ancestors from? What impact is it still having on you?
  2. Where were you born? Raised? What impact is it still having on you?
  3. What was your family like? What impact is it still having on you?
  4. When was the 1st time you realized you were different in some significant way? What impact is it still having on you?
  5. What have been your milestones of your life?
  6. What are your ambitions?
  7. Other important things you would like us to know about you?

The stories increase in personal depth as the process unfolds. To get off to a good start, I suggest that the leader go first after having coached him or her to do so. The questions support the team members in sharing a version of their life’s story in ways that are often moving and emphasizes the humanity that is shared by all. Thus, they level the field. I highlight this by asking the group after everyone has had a turn, what impact did hearing the stories have on you personally and on the team as a whole. They recognize that trust increases as we are willing to be open and vulnerable. From there the trust that has been built facilitates the team working through whatever issues it has .

We’ve used this exercise at the highest levels of organizations in the corporate world as well as the military. Feel free to put away any concerns you may have about groups not wanting to do this exercise. If the leader is willing and sets the stage, the others will follow.

Much of the dysfunction of teams come from the uneven playing field of win/lose power dynamics where position, department, race, and gender determine who the winners and losers are. Experientially leveling the playing and building trust through vulnerability allows for the compassion and listening that are at the heart of good collaboration and consensus-building as well as high levels of engagement and performance.

These two exercise help move teams and organizations toward the sense of safety needed for engaging, synergetic teams. There is always more to learn about creating great teams and organizations. One way to significantly deepen your understanding and skills for working with organizations and teams is to sign-up for my new online program “Creating Great teams and Organizations Intensive” under development for a Fall start. It’s based on the highly successful Triple Impact Intensive that Edie Seashore and I ran for 16 years. The Center for Human Systems is offering significant discount for initial pilot program. Click to check it out at chumans.com/intensive or email me at michael@chumans.com.

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO

Center for Human Systems

Dunedin, Florida

CHumanS.com

410 730-1601