Decision Making Services

Metatorial Services has provided decision support services for many organizations to help them frame the issues and reach consensus on information management concerns. Using methods from advanced decision facilitation software to informal meetings and conversations, we facilitate consensus decision making.

A lot of people will want to be heard on the issues, but only a small group of sponsors should get to finally decide. Our facilitation process can provide a voice for the larger group and advanced decision-making tools for the smaller sponsor group. We help you identify the decision makers and we will help you design and run a process for bringing them into alignment. We establish procedures for sponsors to process a possibly large amount of information, provide input, review the input of others, and come to agreement. We have used a variety of methods to accomplish this, all of which shared these common qualities:

  • Setting the rules of the process before you begin: Some rules we have found useful are a commitment to attend meetings and answer all e-mail messages, and a commitment to end with a single agreed-upon statement.
  • The process ought to offer a degree of anonymity to those who offer input: That is, you should offer ways for people to offer opinions without a name attached. This ensures that not only the dominant or highest-ranking people get to decide. we have often used tools, for example, that enable anonymous ranking and commenting on alternatives ( MeetingWorks is a good example).
  • The process ought to include bottom-up and top-down decision-making: For example, you can ask, "What are our goals?" and keep merging them up to a single project statement (bottom-up). Then you can ask, "What is our project statement?" and, from that, begin to derive goals (top-down). we have found that whichever way you start, it is a good idea to validate your results by going the other direction.
  • Present the facts: Make sure that any facts you have found (things such as how many we have, how long it takes, and who is currently responsible) are presented and agreed upon by the sponsors before a discussion begins. Then be sure to refer to these agreements concerning the facts as people begin to get creative in the heat of debate.
  • Present opinions as opinions: Be especially sure to outline contrasting opinions. Put the sponsors in the position of reconciling approaches and opinions, as opposed to presenting and defending them.
  • Be prepared to break and educate: Note when the discussion would be helped by a quick discussion of vocabulary or concepts. Be aware of when disagreements are based on dissimilar terms. You are not only building consensus on the solution but also on the definition of the problems. Sometimes a quick presentation to kick off a discussion can make a big difference in the quality and focus of the discussion.
  • Stay out of the fray: It rarely serves you to jump into the debate and offer opinions. For one thing, it puts you on a winning or losing side. More important, while you are in the fray, there might be no one watching the process to ensure that all voices are heard and a single group opinion emerges. If you think that you must contribute, make sure someone else is there to facilitate the meeting. Consider using a professional facilitator if you think that the group will be particularly contentious or if you think that you want to be part of the discussion. If you do intend to participate, remember that later you will want the support of the people with whom you are debating.
  • Be prepared to break for more facts or wider opinions: As a tactic to break up contentious discussions, as well as a way to quietly deflate unfounded opinions and facts, create a method for tabling an issue in order to canvass opinions for others not currently in the discussion. If you have previously created a method to get quick turnaround on questions from the wider group of concerned parties, this would be the time to use it.
  • Reward conflict and consensus: In this process, you need to walk a fine line between too much and too little contention. Often, groups will deadlock with conflicting opinions. But just as often, they will seem to have agreed when, in fact, those who did not agree were not paying attention, did not understand what they were agreeing to, or did not want to speak up. Pay attention to both situations and test a weak consensus by restating it plainly and getting each person specifically to agree.
  • If you can't solve the problem, solve the problem of how to solve the problem. Don't let a deadlock go for long without backing up one step. Divert the discussion from the problem to the process for resolving the problem. Go back as far as necessary in order to find agreement. Then start working back toward the deadlock one step at a time, trying to build on the agreement you reached.
  • Note the dynamics: Use every clue at your disposal to understand how people are disposed to the process and each other. Note body language, attitudes of boredom, frustration, apathy, or anything other than honest interest and engagement. It is up to you to decide what to do about dynamics (good or bad); but even if you don't know what to do, be sure to pay attention.
  • Use a variety of venues: When working with sponsors, it is useful to have a bag of discussion tricks up your sleeve to deal with their chronic lack of time and focus. Big group meetings have the advantage of everyone meeting face-to-face to work through issues. (We have found that the statement "We will not leave this room until we have agreed about X" is particularly helpful if you find that the group meanders and fails to decide.) Your process can drag on for weeks or months, however, as you try to find a time that works for everyone. Consider smaller group meetings, gathering opinions via e-mail, one-on-one meetings between warring parties, and any other gatherings that will help you hammer out consensus. we have found that bringing the entire sponsor group together at significant times (the start, major decisions, and the end) is very helpful in building group identity and ensuring that every sponsor gets the same message at the same time.
  • Discourage ad hoc discussion on process: The best way to suck the energy out of a group and leave it in turmoil is to let the discussion turn to the process itself. When people start debating the process you have laid out, the frustration in the room rises and it begins to feel like you are making no progress or, worse, that the validity of the entire process is in question. At these times we recommend a break, skipping on to another subject where the process is not in question, or at the very least tabling the process discussion until a later time. That said, one of the most difficult things to do during a meeting is to know when the process you so cleverly devised is no longer working and to fix it before the rest of the room begins to fix it for you.

Let Metatorial Services design your decision support process. We will assure that you get as close as possible to a strong consensus on the concept, goals, and success metrics of the system you are pursuing. With renown facilitation skills, advanced tools and proven methods, Metatorial Services can help you create a process that brings all your stakeholders to the table and helps you leave with actionable agreement.

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