Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to look at how you can lead a group to a decision.
In fact, it might be better to say we’re talking about how to lead groups to good decisions. After all, any meeting chairperson can push for a quick decision, or call a vote before matters have been fully discussed. But that’s not the kind of leadership I’m talking about. And that doesn’t necessarily produce good decisions. A good decision is one that people buy into, and one that has a strong rationale behind it. Achieving these two things can’t be done quickly, or forcefully.
So how can we go about leading a group to a decision? Well, right at the start of the meeting, you need to set the stage for a good discussion, and a good decision.
Setting the stage involves a couple of important things. Firstly, you need to be very clear about the purpose. If you’re meeting to make a decision, make sure everyone knows it. Also make sure they’re clear on the decision-making process. Does it have to be unanimous? Are you striving for consensus? Will you put it to a vote? These are not issues to be left to the middle of a heated discussion.
Now, it’s often a good idea to have a bit of a process to a decision-making meeting. And that process typically goes like this: start with information-sharing, then run through or brainstorm different options, then evaluate those options through discussion, and finally make a decision.
Notice that generating ideas and evaluating ideas are separate steps. That helps prevent people feeling criticized or getting defensive. Of course, people will bounce around a bit. You’ll be evaluating options, and someone will bring up an important piece of information they neglected to mention earlier. That’s fine, and unavoidable. But overall, it’s a good idea to follow this rough process.
Within this process, leading group decisions is all about facilitating good discussion. And the magic of good facilitation is making everyone in the room feel listened to and emotionally validated. That can seem easy for the outgoing people who like to think out loud and are comfortable jumping into the middle of conversation. But the deep thinkers need more time to articulate their thoughts. For this reason, when you think discussion has stalled on a particular topic, just wait. You’ll be surprised what emerges after a minute of uncomfortable silence.
Overall, you need to make sure that everyone has had a chance to speak and express themselves. Sometimes, this means calling on people directly. Or it might simply mean staying attuned to how those weaker voices attempt to join the discussion. If you’re perceptive, you’ll be able to see when someone wants to say something. Maybe they lean forward and open their mouth slightly. Or they make gestures with their hands. Your job is to help these voices be heard.
One thing you should be doing throughout the discussion is checking back with the participants for a variety of purposes. For one, you might confirm agreement by saying something like: “Okay, is everyone on board with this plan?” Take your time with this. Don’t ask just once. Let the deep thinkers think it through. You’ll also check back for clarity by saying something like this, “So, Tom, what you’re saying is that the 4th Avenue location is too expensive?” You can do this when you don’t understand someone, or when you know others don’t understand an idea.
Another reason to check back is to test for disagreement. You might say something like: “All right, thanks for that. Now, does anyone see a good reason why this is not possible?” Don’t be afraid to play the devil’s advocate yourself. Disagreement is constructive. Finally, you might summarize the discussion at key points along the way. For example, you could say: “It looks like there are two perspectives on this. Some of you are saying this is a good idea, while others seem to think it’s not the best option.”
In this way, you’re kind of acting like a shepherd of ideas, helping organize thoughts and ensuring everyone feels like they’re part of the group. By being clear about purpose upfront, following a basic decision-making process, and using your facilitation skills, you can come to a good decision.
And remember, a good decision is one that people buy into and that has good rationale. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great group of focused people who get along. But chances are you’ll face some obstacles on the road to a good decision, and in our next lesson, we’ll talk about overcoming those obstacles.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.