Making changes in any organisation may result in failure. Moving toward a consensus based process of making decisions is no different. Avoid these 5 factors and improve your chance of successfully bringing in consensus discernment.
It takes time and energy to bring change. Obviously there are factors that can lead to failure when implementing change. However it is well worth the effort when you hear people exclaim that they have finally worked together faithfully to discern the will of God. Anyone can make a decision – it takes a faith community to discern a Godly direction!
The process outlined in our book, “The Church Guide For making Decisions Together” involves Preparation, Invitation, Deliberation, and Action. When done properly, people will feel good about the decisions they make together. When not done properly, people feel cheated and misled. There are ways to reduce the risk that your change process will lead to failure.
Here are 5 major mistakes that leaders often make when introducing a consensus building approach to making decisions. Watch out for, and guard against, these 5 factors that lead to failure.
Failure to model the approach
From the Chairperson to the newest participant, active listening and respect for one another is crucial when making decisions. Leaders must be genuine in wanting to hear all points of view. Show patience and careful listening in their Deliberative Sessions. Be sure to ask people what they mean if it is not clear. Help those who need it to say what is on their mind. This helps people see how it works. Once confident, they will be willing to try it in their own context.
Failure to adequately prepare people
People deserve to know what is expected of them in this discernment process and how to engage fully. This is the same with anything new. Therefore, there is no substitute for an Orientation Session that explains the process well and how to participate. When people are confused they make mistakes or find it hard to trust the leadership. As a result they will complain and drag their feet.
Another failure in preparation is not forming inclusive and diverse small groups ahead of time. Neglecting to identify and train the small group facilitators to guide their work is a recipe for disaster. We recommend hiring a Process Facilitator for the first time the process is used in large groups. This ensures that no preparation is missed and leaders are trained and participants engaged.
Failure to ask open questions
Open questions (one’s that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”) lead to a good discussion and creativity. If people are offered only the chance to agree or disagree the conversation quickly grinds to a halt. Examples of open questions are: “What might be some of the things we need to take into account about this idea?” “How do you feel / respond / think about that comment?”
All too often, leaders unintentionally ask questions that lead people in a specific direction. “Do you believe that…?” “Don’t you agree that…?” “Should we do this?” Questions from the Chairperson can make people feel like they are being railroaded into a particular direction. Therefore a consensus building decision-making process crafts questions that engage people around both the possibilities and consequences of their decision. Powerful questions include: “What do you need to know in order to make this decision?” “Why is this issue important to you?”
Closed questions close off discussion. However open questions generate the response necessary to generate new insights and options. They make it possible to complete the process with integrity.
Failure to get the right people to the table
Who would throw a party and not make a guest list? Silly, right? Leaders who have an important decision looming need to give thought to who should be involved in making it. When possible, leaders (as well as stakeholders) should work together. This eliminates the mistake of making assumptions or not making decisions based on reality.
Failure to provide enough time for the process
We have seen facilitators not schedule the process wisely. So inadequate time is provided for Information Sharing and not enough time for the small groups to complete their discussions. Time spent doing these things well means that the time used in moving to a decision is often much quicker. Yes, this process invests more time than a traditional “Let’s vote!” approach in the information and discussion stage. However it gets results because the best options for action get raised, there are less amendments from the floor, and reduced confusion about what is being decided. Plus, less time is spent revisiting issues later with this approach! The book lists various tips that save time. These include the use of colored cards to gauge feelings without the need for people to make speeches at the microphone.
With knowledge, you can avoid making these mistakes. Reading our book: “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” and using the process in your setting will work. Send specific questions to us through this site and we will respond. We are also available for consultations and training. Contact us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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