Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 27: How did we decide that?

November 17, 2020 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 27: How did we decide that?
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Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 27: How did we decide that?
Nov 17, 2020
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"Because although we'd love you all to be able to think ahead and do this well the first time, in fact, it is a thing we mostly learn by stubbing our toes and bloodying our noses. So when you're in that, 'How did we decide?' that kind of place is a really good time to think about: Do we know our decision making processes? Do we think about our options? Do we have choices to use for different kinds of decisions? And is it clear which one we use when and how we travel through that process? And transparency about process does wonders for increasing the sort of tranquility of a group, the cohesiveness of a group."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"Because although we'd love you all to be able to think ahead and do this well the first time, in fact, it is a thing we mostly learn by stubbing our toes and bloodying our noses. So when you're in that, 'How did we decide?' that kind of place is a really good time to think about: Do we know our decision making processes? Do we think about our options? Do we have choices to use for different kinds of decisions? And is it clear which one we use when and how we travel through that process? And transparency about process does wonders for increasing the sort of tranquility of a group, the cohesiveness of a group."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "How did we decide that?"

Paul:

I think we've all had the experience of being in a group that is needing to make a decision about something. And we come out of that decision making meeting or series of meetings or whatever it is, with the decision. And we find ourselves going, "Wait, how? How did we decide that? How did we end there?" And that is often mysterious to us. And figuring out how we landed there can often help us figure out how to land in better places. And I think one of the first places to look at that is actually by asking a slightly different question is, "Did we decide?"

Karen:

Yeah, I think that that's kind of the first thing is for a group to be clear about how do we know when there is a decision? Because if you don't have clarity about that, there are a couple of things that are likely to go wrong fairly often. One is that people get kind of frozen. Like, I don't know that there's a decision. So I don't know that I can act on it. I can't do the next thing on that decision. Because I don't know that it's a decision. And the other is, "Well, I thought we decided that sounded like we were all on the same page, I'm going merrily along my way," and somebody else is going, "Whoa, wait a minute, what are you thinking," or you're just taking over when we were supposed to make a decision. All that kind of perception goes wonky, when you don't have clarity around this is what we do when we're making a decision. This is how we know. This is the language that we use. This is the process that we follow. And whether that's a sociocracy consent round, or everybody puts their secret ballot in a box, like, there are lots of ways but what you do want is clarity. Or it could be the the leader or some central person saying, okay, we've all checked in, and this is what we're doing. We can have another episode about what the various benefits and costs of those different options are, but for now, just to say you need a decision process that everyone on your team understands and has buy-in to. And so when a decision has been made, everybody knows that a decision has been made.

Paul:

Yes, that is the single thing that I do with groups that improves the quality of their decision making process is getting them to be clear about how any particular decision will be made. And it's totally possible to have different procedures, and different decision rules for different types of decisions. You don't have to do the same thing for everything. What's important is for any individual decision for everyone involved in the process to know how will this decision be made. So if we're working on something, and we realize, you know, we acknowledge up front, this is a decision we're going to make by consent, then that helps us to shape the process of interacting with each other to reach a decision. That will look very different than if we know this decision is going to be made by the manager after hearing input from everyone. Knowing that will also shape the process of interacting with each other. Just being clear about which of those we're using makes groups function more effectively, because then they're actually able to answer the question, yes, a decision got made or a decision didn't, because they know how it got made. They know what the signals were that the decision got made. And it just it improves things hugely. Regardless of which process you're using just knowing which one you're using helps.

Karen:

Yep. And I think one place that consensus groups in particular can go astray with this is "Well if we're a consensus group, that means we make every decision by consensus." And, and really what it means is that you decide how you're going to make every decision by consensus. You decide how, not necessarily that every decision is a consensus decision. I'm working with a couple of groups right now that are in naming processes where they're picking the name for their group. That's a that's a pretty important thing. And, and I tell them right up front that's on the short list of decisions that I would recommend to never make by consensus. Because it's too personal, it's to preference driven. Like there's no amount of sort of logic or strategy or listening, that's going to make everybody it's similar to don't decide which color to paint a wall by consensus, the pain of that process just isn't worth the result. So being thoughtful about is this, yeah, we usually have a default decision making process. Is this a decision that makes sense for that? Or is this a decision that we will be better served by a different process, either based on the time and energy that it takes or the type of information or, you know, some some decisions really should be made by the person who knows the most about that thing, period. Other decisions are going to affect everybody in the group. And you really need to hear like, But wait, this is what it looks like over here. And that's what it looks like over here. And then a consensus process is going to serve you better. So being open to the idea that you don't need to, as you said, make every decision the right way, you just want to be thoughtful about how to make every decision. And if you're a consensus group, that means that this first step is to get to consensus about how to make the decision. And by the way, it's usually best to decide process before you get very deep into content. Once you're in content, everybody will attach to the process that seems most likely to get them their way. And you don't want to do that. You want to think about process before you've thought too much about which way means you win.

Paul:

Yeah. And that is one of the things that leads us to ending up in that situation of how did we decide that? One of the reasons we can get into that situation is because we didn't have an agreement about how we were going to make a decision. And so I might have thought a decision was made, because I thought, "Oh, I'm the boss and this is a decision that's made by the boss." Right? And you thought the decision hasn't been made because you thought it was being made by consent, by consensus, and we haven't, we haven't done that yet. And so it can be very confusing to you when we have a meeting about something. And we discussed a number of things. And then I announced to the whole company, three days later that a decision has been made, and here's what it is. And you're just going, "But, but we didn't do the thing." And it's because we didn't have an agreement about how we were actually going to make the decision.

Karen:

Yeah. And I think ultimately, that's why this is such a useful question to be asking. Because although we'd love you all to be able to think ahead and do this well the first time, in fact, it is a thing we mostly learn by stubbing our toes and bloodying our noses. So when you're in that, "How did we decide that?" kind of place is a really good time to think about: Do we know our decision making processes? Do we think about our options? Do we have choices to use for different kinds of decisions? And is it clear which one we use when and how we travel through that process? And transparency about process does wonders for increasing the sort of tranquility of a group, the cohesiveness of a group. For the most part, if people bought into a system and said, "Yep, the boss is going to make all the decisions," they can tolerate that pretty well, if they know that's what they're in for, and that's the agreement. Not so much if they think they're in a consensus realm and somebody else you know, some individual for whatever the reason, because they're the boss, because they're the bully, because their power grabbing strategies are most effective or whatever if you think you're in consensus, and somebody's grabbing power, that's where you get in trouble.

Paul:

Yeah. Now, the other side of the "How did we decide that?" which is almost maybe a little straightforward, more straightforward thing is when you have people who think that they understand how the decision is going to be made, and they disagree, and they don't talk about it. You and I have talked about this a number of times where oftentimes the people who have the most structural authority, positional power, privilege, in a group are the ones who are most likely to think the decision is being made by consensus, even when it isn't.

Karen:

There are lots and lots of ways to influence decision making. And in general, the more power we have, the less aware we are of any power differentials. So if you think "Oh, powers perfectly balanced," or, or even if you think "I don't have much power here," that's the thing to check out. And I think we're we're teasing here toward probably another episode at some point about how power plays out in group.

Paul:

Yeah. So to to work with that sometimes what I do and I also see that the flip side of that sometimes, which is this is the thing that shows up with delegation, right, which is where people in positions of structural authority think that they have delegated decision making to other folks. And those other folks think that the person is still holding on to the decision. Right? It's like, "I want you to go make a decisio about this." But you hear that s, "You should come up with ome options and bring it back t me to decide." Being clear bout what decision making auth rity is being delegated ca be really hard. And so one of the things that I have found re lly useful in working with gro ps, and managers, and things like that, is actually making them aware of what some of heir choices are. It's like so y u have choices about how you m ght make this decision, this c uld be a majority vote, this c uld be leader decides and then a d then informs, right, this c uld be people debate ideas in f ont of the leader, then the l ader makes a decision and ask q estions, this could be a c nsensus, it could be a number. T ese are sort of your options. A d then once people are aware o what the options are, s metimes I'll have them at the b ginning of a process, say, w at I like to do is give e erybody like an index card, r ght? And say, write down which m thod you think is going to be u ed to make this decision. And t en they flip the cards over a d we put all the cards into a s ack. And then we just reveal t em. So we don't know who wrote w at, and we see if they agree o not.

Karen:

Yeah, and I think what we're pointing to kind of throughout all of this is that it's not so much that which way you make the decision is the winner or the loser or the deciding thing. It's are you all on the same page about how to make the decision and how you'll know that decision has been made. And if you're on the same page about that, odds are you're going to be able to move forward. And even if it turns out you picked the wrong way or whatever, as a group, you'll be able to go "Oh, yeah, that didn't work. So well. We can do it differently next time."

Paul:

Yeah. And if you are all on the same page about how you're doing it, you won't find yourself afterwards asking the question, "How do we decide that?"

Karen:

I think that's gonna do it for us today. Until next time, I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis. And this has been Employing Differences.