So here’s my biggest takeaway from The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making: Confusion and frustration are not signs of dysfunction in group decision-making. They’re a natural byproduct of the struggle group members have to go through in order to integrate new and different ways of thinking with their own.
The authors have a developed what seems to be powerful explanatory model of the dynamics of group decision-making. There’s a good illustration of it here. In particular, note what the authors call the Groan Zone. Here’s what they say about it:
When people experience discomfort in the midst of a group decision-making process, they often take it as evidence that their group is dysfunctional. As their impatience increases, so does their disillusion with the process.
Many projects are abandoned for exactly this reason. In such cases, it’s not that the goals were ill-conceived; it’s that the Groan Zone was perceived as an insurmountable impediment rather than a normal part of the process.
So let’s be clear about this: misunderstanding and miscommunication are normal, natural aspects of participatory decision-making. The Groan Zone is a direct, inevitable consequence of the diversity that exists in any group.
Not only that, but the act of working through these misunderstandings is part of what must be done to lay the foundation for sustainable agreements. Without shared understanding, meaningful collaboration is impossible.
It is supremely important for people who work in groups to recognize this. Groups that can tolerate the stress of the Groan Zone are far more likely to discover common ground. And common ground, in turn, is the pre-condition for insightful, innovative co-thinking.
I’ve picked up two insights from this. The first is that my job as a coach and facilitator is not to help my team avoid this struggle. My job is to support them to keep working through it. The second is that far too many meetings have gone bad when they started to butt up against this struggle and — instead of dealing with it — took it as sign that they should end the meeting or move to a different topic. I know I’ve been guilty of this in meetings I’ve moderated.
Avoiding the frustration and miscommunication in group decision-making means avoiding the work that makes group decision-making worthwhile. Often the worst meetings are the ones that aren’t allowed to bad enough to get good.
UpdateFitness: Ran 6 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 336 words, 415 seven-day average, 269 average, 38406 total, 406 words past the goal for the week; 10-day streak