The art and science of great meetings—part three

In the last of our three articles on the Art and Science of Great Meetings, we look at how to end meetings with clarity.

Does this sound familiar?  The meeting is running out of time.  The person running the meeting looks to bring it to a close and says something like “it sounds as though people want to do such-and-such, so on this basis are we happy to proceed?” Some will say yes, some will nod, some will indicate agreement with a slight raising of their eyebrows, some won’t say anything.  On this basis a decision is made.

But has there really been a consensus decision here? Is there clear and enthusiastic buy-infor what has been proposed? Hell no!  Most likely many people will leave the room confused as to what has been decided. Chances are the decision will be re re-litigated at a future meeting.

What should be determined early on is the decision-making protocol.  Is it going to be consensus decision-making (where all support the decision), or is it majority vote? Or is it the team leader who decides?  None are right or wrong, but what is needed is clarity as to which protocol you are going to use.

As a reminder, we have been looking at how to run effective meetings around complex or high-stake issues.  Generally speaking, the more important the decision, the more attractive consensus decision-making is because it makes for more effective implementation.  The difficulty is that in the search for consensus decision-making we can end up with people feeling pressured to support something that they don’t truly believe in for the sake of expediency, or giving into peer pressure.

When consensus decision-making is done well, it has the benefit of harvesting diverse thinking and generating creativity that can result in new ideas that can work for everyone.  Yes, this can take time.  However, for high stake decisions it is an investment of time that will be paid back in spades.  The decision is far more likely to be implemented; versus expedient decision-making that can quickly unravel.

In searching for consensus we can get unstuck by the polarity of “yes” or “no” missing the shades in between.   When running a meeting it is useful to have a tool to find where people sit on a decision .  The “gradients of agreement” helps team members to accurately and authentically express the degree of their support (or not) for a proposal.



Here’s how we use it.  Draw up the gradients of agreement continuum on a flip chart. On another flip chart write up the proposal you are looking for a decision on. Check in to see that you have captured and articulated the proposal accurately and make any necessary revisions.  Stick the proposal flip chart above the gradients of agreement continuum.  Next, ask people to decide where they rate themselves in terms of agreement to the proposal on the continuum.  A good way to do this is to give people a small post-it note and ask them to write a number from 1 – 8 depending on their rating. Only once everyone has made their rating on their post-it note do you get people to stick their post-it note on the flip chart.  Having people write their number first helps avoid conscious or sub conscious group think or clustering of ratings.

You now have a good indication as to how close you are to consensus and what it is going to take to get there.  If you are there – celebrate! Or you may reject the proposal out of hand.  Often you may end up with more discussion but it will be more focused and informed as a result of using the gradients of agreement.  Poll again until you get there.