after a three-week term break, the school working party is back to regular weekly meetings in pursuit of defining a problem.
Last week, the group decided on desired conditions for each of the seven areas that they identified as needing examination. Below are the desired condition for one of those areas — communications.
- Clearly articulated
- Easily understood
- Within consistent communication process/es
It was interesting to note that the group failed to identify “effective” as one of the desired conditions. I wondered if this was partly an effect of running the meeting too long. Fresh minds are needed for clarity and creativity, two vital ingredients when a group is looking for quality within a process.
The task for the third meeting was to determine the size of the gaps between the desired conditions and the actuality. For this task, The Practical Decision Maker recommended using a Discrepancy Analysis tool. Because the working party consists of 5 teachers, 4 school council members, and one office staff member, I decided to create a Discrepancy Analysis survey to fill out instead of going over each item orally (very time-consuming). I also thought this might eliminate some issues with members who are overbearing in their opinions. For each condition of each area, I created a question asking for the desired state to be quantified and then the actual state to be quantified as the authors’ suggested (p. 136). I constructed this survey using Survey Monkey, a Web 2.0 tool for creating online surveys.
Here are a couple of example questions constructed from the desired conditions recorded above for Communication:
Some post meeting thoughts:
- This was the first meeting we’ve had at the school and there was a definite difference in the behaviour of the teachers. It was difficult to bring them to order to begin the meeting. They were sorting out classroom items and generally distracted with their own little tasks throughout the meeting. Whether this was solely to do with the environment or also a general relaxing into the group, I am not sure. I will keep this in mind and try to have the meetings away from the school. And I will make mention of prompt starts in the next agenda email.
- Although we went over the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, I need to emphasize more which step we are at in the decision making process. I think at times they forget in the process of the task-at-hand. We are only working to come up with a problem definition at this point. Members still want to jump to “then we should … ” statements although they then say, “Oh, I guess that’s a solution isn’t it.” Call me cynical but I am the tiniest suspicious that this is a tactic used on the part of one individual to influence the process. My answer to the above statement last night was, “No, it’s not a solution, but we’re not up to taking suggestions yet.”
- I am taking these more relaxed behaviours as signs that group evolution, Stage Two — Storming is on the horizon.
The authors of The Practical Decision Maker claim discrepancy analysis is precise in “identifying gaps between where we want to be and where we are” (Harvey, Bearley and Corkrum, 2002, p. 54). Ideally this would be true, but when groups are made up of people with vested interests, the objectivity suffers. The problem definition will only be as good as the group will allow it to be. The teachers in this group failed to record a gap in any of the teaching areas and as they outweigh the parent/council stakeholders, this will not help to strongly focus on any aspect of teaching that needs improvement.
I am finding the role of facilitator to be one of delicate balance. I want the group to make the best decisions it can (so I did point out they had missed ‘effective’ in their desired outcomes). On the other hand, they need to own the process and if I appear to be influencing too much I can see one of several things happening:
- They see me as pushing an agenda and lose faith in me as a leader
- Ownership of the problem and the solution is diluted so no action comes of the decision making process
- The process is biased by me (and who knows how clearly I’m seeing the SITNA?)
At the next meeting we will be looking for causes for the gaps and to perhaps begin defining our problem.
Harvey, T. R., Bearley, W. L., & Corkrum, S. M. (2002). The practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organizations. Oxford: The Scarecrow Press.
Although I may not have sounded entirely happy with the subjectivity of this step in the problem-solving process, Eunson (1987, p. 272) argues that two dimensions are necessary for an effective decision: it’s quality and its ability to attract the acceptance of the people who are related to the decision. I accept this.
Eunson, B. (1987). Decision-making and problem-solving. In Behaving: Managing yourself and others (pp. 268-298). Roseville NSW: McGraw-Hill.