As we continue to look at making decision-making more efficient (and, I hope, enjoyable) we will now look at the people involved and how they flow together. It may be helpful to say that this part, particularly, applies to any small group in the church, whether decision-making or just meeting weekly for encouragement and discussion.
Who takes part?
It is not possible to be dogmatic about who should participate in discussions but, in the case of the Ministry Health Checks I carry out, I like to have not only those who lead the ministry, cast vision and support the team, but also those who are ‘hands on’ in carrying out the day-to-day activities. This second group often know more about the reality of what is happening than the leaders since they interact closely with the people they are trying to help. They also know what it feels like to be directed and supervised in the ministry; one of my roles is to create a safe context in which honest feelings and criticism can be expressed without feeling judged. Their opinions and observations are vital to achieving the goal, such as raising the standard of care through the ministry.
Any number of participants between 6 and 10 works well. More than that can become too unwieldy if decisions are to be reached as discussions take longer with more people.
Every member of the group is, of course, an individual. Each has greater or lesser feelings of security which will affect how openly he (or she) speaks.
Also, people fall broadly into one of two categories of how they think – internal and external processors. Internal processors think and come to a conclusion before they speak whereas external processors develop their thinking through verbalising their thoughts. Recognising this is important as external processors can dominate a discussion and it is the facilitator’s role to draw out the internal processors.
There are many other characteristics we all exhibit which make us unique and such a pleasure to God! So, in a discussion it is important that each person is able to express himself freely. A facilitator should quickly recognise these characteristics as the more reticent members of a group often contribute the greatest gems!
For the best discussions there must be total acceptance that contributions are never ridiculed. Taking an opinion or suggestion seriously, even if it has little validity in the context, is important for the speaker. Ridicule or rejection will ‘close him down’ and inhibit further participation. Sometimes I use rewards (Toblerone is popular) for the most outlandish ideas in a particular context! Such an approach carries the message that ‘out-of-the-box thinking’ is acceptable.
Body language is also an important means of communication and the facilitator must be alert to signs which indicate that someone agrees or disagrees, that they would like to make a contribution but are shy, etc.
Next time we will look at some of the practicalities of making discussions successful.