By Gemma Jiang
Do you encounter resistance from your team members, especially in regard to difficult decisions? How might decision-making processes be better facilitated to generate insights instead of resistance?
I describe a conceptual framework and an accompanying practical tool from Lewis Deep Democracy (2021) that can transform resistance to insights in decision-making processes.
The conceptual framework: Understanding how decision making generates resistance
It is important first to understand the consciousness of a team. If you think of a team’s consciousness as an iceberg, the ideas and opinions that are expressed are the conscious part above the waterline, while those that are not expressed are the unconscious part below the waterline. If decisions are made based only on the team’s expressed ideas and opinions, those below the waterline will likely form resistance. This is often what happens with “majority rules” democracy.
When decisions are based on a majority vote (which can be as low as 51%), what happens to the opinions of the minority? If they are not taken into account, they may turn into minority resistors who can sabotage the implementation efforts. Their resistance behaviors can be passive, such as sarcastic jokes, excuses and gossip, or overt, such as failure to communicate, disruption, withdrawal from the team or open conflicts. It is important for leaders to identify these resistance behaviors and transform them.
The Argument tool I introduce next goes below the waterline and uncovers the wisdom and potential latent there.
The tool: The Argument
The Argument is a practical tool to bring all the issues affecting a decision to light. It has four steps.
Step 1. Gain agreement on the process and set the safety rules.
Difficult decisions often involve different views, strong personalities, and heightened emotions. To start the process, it is important to gain agreement on the whole process from all team members and set safety rules. Suggested safety rules include no one has a monopoly on the truth; take care of yourself; decouple the views from the person. Anything goes, as long as all the people involved agree.
Step 2. Say it all.
Assuming there are two sides (there may be more), each side take turns to “throw all the arrows”, holding nothing back. It is important that when one side is speaking, the other side listens, and does not respond. At this stage, listening is given prominence. When one side has finished, the other side says everything from their side. Because new information may be raised by each side, this process can be repeated multiple times as long as new information is forthcoming.
Also key in this step is that any team member can swap sides at any time. This means that one person can support both sides, simply by stating their support when it is each side’s turn. In this step, the team is becoming more and more conscious, with more ideas and opinions being surfaced.
Step 3. Reflect on and own the insights gained.
Each person takes time to reflect on and talk about the new insights they gained during step 2. Some of the things that were said during step 2 will hit home, and it is important for everyone to own and articulate what they learnt with “I” statements. For example, “I was really struck by what [person x] said, as I had not thought of the issue that way before.” This is critical because these insights inform the decision-making in step 4.
Step 4. Make the decision.
Building on the insights generated by Steps 1 to 3, the decision is then often not difficult to make. The decision may be different from what people originally had in mind; it may be more innovative and creative. Alternatively, it may be that more information of a certain type is needed before a decision can be made. Because of The Argument process and the collective input, there will be a sense of buy-in and a commitment to the decision.
Sometimes, however, there will still be a minority group who do not agree with the decision. It is important for the team leader to ensure that there are no ideas and opinions left unsaid and that everything has been taken into account. This is not only about minimizing the chance that this group will become resisters, but also about ensuring that the best decision has been made under the circumstances. A team leader may seek to broker a compromise between the new majority and minority, by asking the minority: “what would it take for you to support the decision?” and from that determining what compromises can be made.
This process is intended for high stakes decisions with a strong emotional tone. However, it can also be applied to lesser, easier decisions. Teams can build up their comfort level with this process and with each other by starting with easier decisions.
This tool aims to create psychological safety for expressing divergent perspectives during steps 1 and 2. It then transforms divergence into insights and enables convergence towards a collaborative decision in steps 3 and 4.
This tool can be used in conjunction with the gradients of agreement tool described by Hannah Love in her blog post Gradients of agreement for democratic decision-making. For example, when a decision is first made, the gradients of agreement tool can be used to determine if there is substantial disagreement warranting use of “The Argument.” The gradients of agreement tool can be used again after Step 4 of the Argument to determine if substantive disagreement remains.
These tools are useful for bringing the teams out of the groan zone between divergent and convergent thinking as described by Carrie Kappel in her blog post.
What is your experience in getting through the groan zone? Do you have additional tools to share? Does the concept of the iceberg of team consciousness resonate with you? Do you think “The Argument” will be useful for teams you lead or participate in?
This blog post is based on lessons I learnt in a course “Leading on the Edge of Complexity” provided by Lewis Deep Democracy (2021) and my experience applying “The Argument” in decision making in teams I lead and facilitate.
Lewis Deep Democracy. (2021). Lewis Deep Democracy (Myrna and Greg Lewis). (Online): https://www.lewisdeepdemocracy.com/
Biography: Gemma Jiang, PhD is the Director of Organizational Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA. She applies complexity leadership theory, social network analysis, and a suite of facilitation methods to enable transdisciplinary teams to converge upon solutions for challenges of societal importance.