Monday, April 2, 2012

How we make decisions

I have just had an email exchange with someone claiming that by not formally voting in a chair and a secretary at a new group meeting (although as there was only one candidate for each role so we nodded it through) was unconstitutional. I pointed out that as we didn't have a constitution (we're an ad hoc working group made up of people from two organisations) that whatever we did could not be termed unconstitutional.

We all know people who are wedded to their rule books, who want to see the i's dotted and the t's crossed. and we should be grateful for them. They highlight an important aspect of working within organisations. What people like my colleague do is remind us that we need to at least have some semblance of structure when we are working together within any organisation. In this instance I suggested that she write a terms of reference which outlined how we made decisions. To date she has not picked up on this.

We cannot assume that all decisions are going to be made the same way in every organisation that we are a member of. Voting in an open meeting may not be appropriate nor may the assumption  that the majority will carry it. Sometimes voting can be divisive. Sometimes people do not want to be seen to cast their vote. Sometimes things are so important that a simple majority just will not do. Most of us only think about how we make decisions when we are faced with one that is contentious.

We had this situation locally a few years back when another religious group wanted to hire our building. Their views in many ways were contrary to ours and some felt that it was inappropriate. Others felt that as long as they were not preaching hate or violence that we should reach out and offer our building. It got very testy and in the end we had a secret ballot but not until we had debated the issue very fully. In the end we did rent our building, they came a couple of times and then their own internal strifes overtook them and they disappeared. What it left us with was a feeling that we needed to know how decisions were made - not just the end bit - but the process leading up to that.

We have carried this forward with our discussions about our building. We could have taken a straight vote a year or two back. Instead we decided that we needed to debate the issue until the majority of people could see the vision of the reconfiguration of the space and the outcome that it would make the building more accessible.

Going back to my procedure-loving colleague, I think that it is worth trying to marry some people's desire for structure and accountability with others' priorities of getting the job done. As with all organisational issues it is a matter of balance and accommodating diverse approaches to make a meaningful and respectful whole.

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