Mind-Set Meeting Reflections

Photo Courtesy: emdot at Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/73537086/

Photo Courtesy: emdot at Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/73537086/

A pause to reflect on the decision-making process our school working party has embarked on. Meeting on a weekly basis means it is easy for the week to slip by and not get any thoughts down.

Our first meeting involved only Step One – Mind-Setting (which needs to occur before the situation can be properly defined). It was very enlightening to get everyone’s perception of the problem/situation on to the table. Like the story of the blind men describing the elephant, it was important for everyone to see what everyone else assumed they were talking about. There was recognition of the complexity of the issue and that many were only considering one aspect of it. There was recognition that perhaps only symptoms of the actual situation had been dealt with in the past and so the actions were not successful. The picture became clearer as each member spoke around the circle and the the situation gained a seriousness it hadn’t had before; it became obvious that quick answers would not ‘fix it’ but that good decisions were possible.

The idea of information under-girding each step is one that I will have to further reinforce. We have talked about our feelings but now will need facts to base decisions on.

The most difficult aspect of the first meeting was for members to keep solutions out of the conversation when talking of their perceptions. I must be more strict about them not being verbalised at this point. I don’t want shortcuts to bias any definitions or criteria.

Just an interesting observation, but one I will address at the next meeting, is that of eye contact. I was surprised to see each member of the group when sharing their perceptions did not look at the group but spent the majority of the time making eye contact with me, the facilitator. I wonder if this is a hangover from ‘old school days’ when the student always addressed the teacher not the class’. Even the teachers in the working party did it. I tried to non-verbally encourage people to address the group by looking round at the group myself as each spoke, but that didn’t work. I’ll have to say directly.

The Practical Decision Maker

Another powerful read from our ETL504 Study Guide is a chapter from T.R. Harvey, W.L. Bearley and S.M. Corkrum’s The Practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations. Victor Kiam once said, “I was so impressed with the product, I bought the company.” Well, I’ve not got the money but I know what he meant. I was so impressed with the idea, I’ve booked myself into a school council meeting to show them this six-step decision-making process. This is the magic bullet they have been looking for.

When critically reflecting on things in this course, questions we are to ask ourselves are:

What do you think are the important features of …?

Why do you think that?

If you are correct, what would desirable effects be??

Why would these results be desirable?

What actions of yours would deliver those results?

Why do you think those actions would be effective?

So to begin …

The six step process of decision making starts with pre-prep work, ground work that I believe is often missing when groups are dealing with ‘situations that need attention’. Helping people recognize and adjust their perception/feelings toward a problem or problems in general can empower a demoralized group to start afresh or at least to have another go at something rather than throwing their hands in the air. It can ‘bring them back to the table’.

Next the process brings objectivity to the ‘situation that needs attention’ (SITNA) often a situation that until then has been charged with emotion and/or ego. The 80/20 ratio focusses on the four initial steps which clarify the situation and help to give a complete picture to often complex situations rather than trying to make things simple. This means the chance for better choices instead of ‘either/or’ decisions that no one is really satisfied with.

This leads to perhaps the feature that I see as the strongest; that decisions are reached by consensus not by a vote. Voting can leave certain people unconvinced of the solution and gives those people the power to cut off at the knees any action (based on the vote). I have seen this happen time and again. Consensus means that while not everyone is 100% convinced, they are at least in agreement enough to give the decision a go.

This brought to mind another article, A school Without a Principal, which described the staff’s decision-making process. They use a ‘fist-o-five’ consensus model that I think is brilliant (and has the bonus of feeling a bit pirate-y).

After discussion of a proposal, the facilitator calls for a fist-o-five vote. Five extended fingers signifies total support; four down to two indicates graduated degrees of support. Anyone who blocks a proposal (with a finger or a fist) must propose an alternative. We are encouraged to voice dissenting ideas; meetings are never boring … (Barnett, McKowen and Bloom, 1998, p. 49).

The advantage of having a team all pulling together is obvious — action.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominik99/1403329318/

Barnett, D., McKowen, C., & Bloom, G. (1998). A School without a principal. Educational Leadership, 55(7), 48-49. Retrieved July 20, 2008, from ERIC database. (EJ563903)

Harvey, TR, Bearley, WL & Corkrum, SM 2001, ‘Core steps in decision making’, in The practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD & London, pp. 17-34.