Why do we end up doing things we don’t actually want to?

End 2016. Time to assess where we’ve been, and how it’s gone. How did our approach to key areas of work go?

Thinking to the we, the group, the team, the partners, the citizens, how did collaborations go? If they’re going nowhere, how could they be improved?

Today, I’m considering one group I’ve dedicated time and energy to, the Pliable committee. And this is the question I can’t let go.

Why do we end up doing things we don’t actually want to?

Perhaps the question could be asked another way. Say: why do we lack shared vision? But I think I’ll look at the more personal feeling that we end up doing things that no-one actually wants to. it’s a sinking feeling of going nowhere. Then I’ll ask what might have helped.

Group work and decisions such as we undertake at the Pliable committee are a participatory mode of getting things done. When I go to a meeting I know that any decisions that come out of it are not mine or any other individuals. Any choice we make is the responsibility of the Pliable committee.

Influences in meetings

There are a bunch of things going on at meetings. Do they influence us ending up doing things that we don’t really want to?

Leadership on the Pliable committee for example? I’m not sure anyone regards the Chair as a leader in our meetings. His influence is limited. Further, there are others who sometimes clear their throats, put the right paper on top, come into the discussion and display greater influence than the Chair.

Surely there should be more advantages in coming together as a group than I’ve seen. We’re a diverse mob, and one of our chief functions is to share information. But synergy? That’s not something that we’ve seen produce momentum in a long while.

going-nowhere-keep-calm

So why do we end up doing things no one actually wants to do, and what might help?

Diagnostics:

No one takes responsibility for our decision-making. No one considers anyone accountable for a decision even when it is of some significance. Recently, I did have a go. The decision was around pricing. Going through the Chair, I put it to the group that we consider the advantages of a higher price point. After random discussion I came back and suggested that since we’d sort of considered the advantages, what might disadvantages be? Would anyone suffer? With the person sitting next to me about to have a fit from discussion going nowhere, I moved that we accept the higher price point, having considered advantages and disadvantages to the best of our ability.
Low efficiency atmosphere. Unless it is designed to create a structure for the meeting, an agenda is nothing but a cumbersome list. People go off track and get bogged down. Some details which are of great interest to one person, simply don’t engage the rest of the Pliable committee.
Groupthink. We’re all nice people on the Pliable committee. Perhaps this turns out to be a problem for us, and we are simply too nice. Our desire for harmony lets us down. We become subject to group think. Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is a loss of individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking.’ You look like a freak if you don’t go along with the group.

What might help the Pliable committee or other groups like it?

Facilitation: if groupthink has set in to any great degree, hold a facilitated session with a good facilitator. This will enable the group to review its purpose and examine its unstated rules. Then the group is in a better position to set their norms afresh, for more effective meetings and more effective decision-making.
Agenda design: There’s a lot to be said for approaching each agenda item with a statement of purpose. With this item our purpose is to [share information; decide on a price point; get input on x]. Here’s a resource on agenda design.
The active work of the Chair: to highlight purpose and accountability for decision-making.

Thanks to Boundless Management for their article on “Advantages and Disadvantages of Group Decision Making.” Boundless Management Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 12 Dec. 2016