November 22, 2022 11:26 am
Planning for Next Year? Make Sure There Is Objectivity When Reaching A Decision
With many teams coming together to set priorities and create plans for 2023, the need for neutrality and objectivity will be critical, particularly during heated or high stakes discussions. In decision-making meetings, meeting leaders can display neutrality by ensuring their body language and comments don’t favor some opinions or individuals over others. An equally important, but sometimes overlooked, source of neutrality in decision-making meetings comes from the process the facilitator uses to guide the conversation.
Process, or how the meeting is structured, can exert considerable influence on the effectiveness of a meeting’s outcomes, especially in more complex meetings like decision-making. Just imagine a meeting on a divisive topic that opened with a ‘pros and cons’ t-chart to discuss options before a majority vote. Since pros and cons are highly subjective this process would further polarize the issue and serve to reinforce entrenched opinions. Process matters.
So how do you design a process that enhances neutrality and objectivity?
Bringing Groups to Consensus Using Criteria-Based Decision Grids
Given its ability to utilize more objectivity, a decision matrix is often used by facilitators when groups need to prioritize. In its simplest terms, group members quantify how well each option meets a short list of criteria. Since not all criteria are alike, more objectivity can be built in by also weighing each criterion terms of importance. The outcome – a grid that illustrates how well options meet each of the weighted criteria. There are some real benefits to using this tool:
- Criteria based grids spark clarifying conversations about what exactly the group is trying to achieve. Discussing which criteria to use forces the group to slow down and consider what is important to them before prioritizing.
- Since the process is so transparent, criteria grids help group members support the final decision made even if it wasn’t their top choice. You can literally see on the flip charts why some options were prioritized over others and how your input shaped the outcome.
- Like all consensus-building tools, these grids do take time. The good news is that the time spent agreeing on criteria and their relative importance makes rating the options against the criteria relatively quick. Much of the hard work is already done since the group has a clear idea of what it’s trying to achieve.
There are a few concerns when using a weighted criteria grid that facilitators should keep in mind.
- The process can bias outcomes: It’s a complex process, so it favors analytic types or those with experience participating in complex group exercises over those who feel intimidated or uncomfortable sharing in group settings.
- Participants can bias outcomes: Those familiar with the process can game it. Since the criteria largely determine the outcome, savvy members can advocate for criteria that will support their preferred option and still seem to be ‘playing by the rules.’
- The facilitator can bias outcomes: when pressed for time, some facilitators bring in pre-baked criteria. While this shortcut is appealing for leaders who want more control over the final decision – and for facilitators who are worried about reaching a decision in a timely way – they can negatively impact engagement and buy-in.
- There are some environments where using a predetermined set of criteria is necessary (when determining risk, compliance issues, etc.). Generally, though, the criteria should be established by the group tasked with making the decision.
- Manage participation: make sure that introverts have accessible ways of contributing throughout the process. Utilize anonymous brainstorming and voting techniques requiring ‘written’ input rather than verbal
- Don’t rush the process: allow enough time for reflection and discussion
- Pre-reading: Ensure required information has been distributed in advance so those who need time to formulate their thoughts are better able to contribute
- First criteria, then options: Develop the criteria before the group knows the options. Otherwise, participants will consciously or unconsciously advocate for criteria that favor their preferred option. Once the criteria have been developed, check for consensus within the group to determine their degree of agreement with the final list