Group Decisions and Core Values

Listening to a recent discussion about a critical decision facing a group caused me to reflect upon the core values of facilitation that Roger Schwarz describes in his book, The Skilled Facilitator. As I heard comments from the individuals in the group discussion, I became aware of how much we as humans make decisions with lack of information or because we are coerced into siding with another person we like a lot or don’t want to go up against. I observed an individual who was wavering in the decision until another group member made it clear that those who saw things differently were not “playing with a full deck”. My observation left me believing that the final decision of the group was less than acceptable by everyone, even though everyone voiced an agreement.

Have you ever been a part of such a discussion? I know I have and I have not felt good about the discussions or my participation in them. I often leave those discussions wondering what I could have done, or should have done, to help the group make a better decision. This is where the core values of facilitation have been of great help to me. The core values have provided me with a foundation from which to make decisions about my actions.

The first core value is “valid Information”. The general sense of this value is that all participants have some information that is needed for the decision and all of that information relevant to the decision needs to be shared with the members of the group. As I listened to the discussion I heard individuals ask others questions that were answered with statements like; “I don’t care to share that information right now” or “I think you have all the information you need right now”. If people do not have all of the information they need to be able to independently determine the validity of that information, then this value is being violated. Having this value in our tool kit could enable us to ask the questions of others that would help them feel more comfortable in sharing the needed information.

The second core value is “free and informed choice”. Obviously if people do not have all the valid information needed for the decision, it is difficult to make an informed decision. Likewise, if people feel they need to make a certain decision in order to keep someone happy or to be accepted as one of the team, then the decision is not free. Hearing a member of the group make the innuendo that there was only one right decision to make was in clear violation of the value. Therefore, keeping the value of free and informed choice freely in mind can help the group know what information is valid and needed to make the decision.

The third core value is “internal commitment”. In order for the group members to be committed to the decision, it becomes crucial the first two core values are honored. If the decision is not made with valid information and/or there is no free choice, then it is very unlikely that the group members will have ownership and commitment to the decision. As I observed and heard from the members of the group I was observing, there was very little, if any, ownership to the final decision. While the group leader heard each member agree to the decision, the comments made by several of the group members as they left the meeting indicated no ownership, and therefore, no compliance or commitment to the decision. I left this observation wondering how long before the decision was either revisited by the group or sabotaged by the group members.

The fourth and final core value is “compassion”. To experience compassion in a group, members must be able to hear different perspectives and understand those perspectives before there is judgment about those perspectives. Each group member must care and have genuine concern for self and the other group members. The group members do not have to agree with the different perspectives. However, they do need to honor and work to understand those different perspectives.

Having these four core values as part of my understanding and my tool kit, has caused me to look at group conversations and decision making significantly different than in the past. I now have a foundation that helps me see where, when, and how a facilitator might decide to intervene in the group process. I often wonder how utilizing these core values might affect the human interactions in the world.

Until next time, think about how you could begin utilizing these four core values to make your group interactions more effective and productive in decision making.