If you are leading a group, it is important to develop your skills so all members participate and contribute their best to the decisions you make together.
I recently attended a two-hour meeting with ten participants, all enthusiastic about the mission we were pursuing. The agenda was packed and a number of items were allotted only five minutes to discuss. When we were done, a huge number of topics had been covered, and a lot of decisions made.
But as I went home, I wondered if the decisions we made reflected the best we were capable of producing as a group. During the meeting, most of the comments were made by about five of the ten participants. Several participants did not comment more than once or twice during the entire time, including one of the two women attending, and the only Black and Hispanic participants.
Good decisions are made by diverse groups
Research has shown that the best quality decisions are made by diverse groups of people. However, not surprisingly, this is only true when the group processes decisions in a way that includes input and perspectives from all. So having diversity in a group does not ensure that the outcomes will reflect the best input of all members. Only thoughtful meeting planning, leadership and participation will accomplish this result.
If you are in charge of planning a meeting, think about the larger decisions you want to make and plan your time to ensure that you have time to hear all perspectives. If possible, move small inconsequential decisions to another setting. To get people to weigh in on important issues, try several things:
- Frame conversations about important decisions thoughtfully. Why is this important to your mission on campus? What is the decision being made and how will the group come to closure?
- Choose focused questions for good discussion that will contribute to making a good decision. Tell people how and what you would like them to contribute.
- Make space in the schedule to listen. Not everyone processes a decision in the same way. Some people may benefit from having the questions ahead of time, or having a few minutes in the meeting to gather their thoughts on a challenging question. On my ministry team, some of the best decisions have been made after a five-minute pause to pray and think.
If you are leading the meeting, make sure that you are creating space for all to contribute and use their gifts on the team.
- Keep the conversation on track, redirecting if the group loses focus and starts into another topic or gets on a tangent.
- If all voices are not being heard, invite further comments from those who have not had a chance to speak. On some topics, you might want to go around the group and invite each person to comment, giving them the freedom to pass. Speak your hope that all will contribute.
- Outside of the meeting, check to see if any of the members feel uncomfortable speaking up for any reason and help your group become more aware of what will create a safe and positive environment for all to contribute. Is the style of the meeting communication comfortable for women? For ethnic minorities? For newer members? For introverts? Don’t be afraid to ask if you want to learn more.
As a participant, you may have more bandwidth than the speaker to notice who is not commenting.
- Consider using your speaking space to ask others for their opinions. You can help broaden the conversation by showing that you feel all perspectives are welcome.
- You also may have the opportunity to ask the leader if the group can slow down if you feel some concern that some participants have not been given adequate opportunity to express their thoughts.
Recently, I attended a meeting as an observer. I particularly admired the way one senior participant conducted himself. At times, he used his space to share a short bit of history to strengthen someone else’s point of view. At other times, he used his space to invite a comment from a newer member. Sometimes he helped the group refocus by pointing a comment back toward the critical decision on the table.
As a participant, I saw that this leader had a huge impact on the outcome, and it was not primarily by pressing his own opinion. I sensed that he was listening for the Holy Spirit and trusting that God would be present in the decision that was made using the full participation of the group.
This is the kind of participant I want to be and I want to encourage others to be.