Monday, November 06, 2017

Should You Take a Vote at the Start of Meetings?

David Marquet has written an interesting article for Forbes this week regarding decision-making processes. He begins with a statement of the problem that many organizations must address: "It's not that the courage to speak up is too low, it's that the barriers to speaking up are too high."  However, I have some concerns about the solution that he proposes. He argues the following:

Vote first, vote often. Voting first results in maximum diversity of opinion. It’s difficult to disagree with the group, and maybe more difficult to disagree with the leader. The purpose of voting first is to uncover those who feel strongly one way or the other about something. If you want to poll again after discussion you can.

Why might voting at the outset of meetings not make sense?  Consider what happens when an initial vote takes place, even if you allow people to indicate that they are not sure how they feel about an issue.  Some people will take a hard stance on an issue even before hearing from other parties who may have quite different views.   We might find people shifting into advocacy mode before the problem has even been well-defined by the group.   The vote may confine people's thinking to the options presented, rather than encouraging the generation of new alternatives.  Opportunities to reframe the issue may become more elusive, since we have voted already on the problem as defined by the leader at the outset of meeting.  What happens next?  Will the vote exacerbate the confirmation bias?  Will people examine data selectively, and in so doing actually find themselves polarizing further as the discussion takes place?  Moreover, one has to be concerned if the meeting begins with a lopsided vote.  Would the majority begin to pressure the "holdout(s)" to abandon their opposition and "get on board" with the team?   

In my mind, a meeting has to start with some exploration of the issues at hand, before we move into advocacy regarding particular solutions.  We want to encourage people to share information, particularly data that others may not be aware of prior to the meeting.  Leaders should stimulate a discussion about different ways to frame the problem, and the team should have a vibrant dialogue about alternaive solutions.  We want people to try to understand others' thinking first, before shifting into advocacy mode.   Voting early may actually diminish these important behaviors that lead to more effective decisions.  


Marc Scrivener said...

He's not advocating for voting early in a low-risk, non time-constrained problem-solving session in a boardroom. He's allowing for early dissent in a non-time-constrained high-risk training exercise. If one junior officer had been given the opportunity to speak up and say, "I object to deviation from standard safety procedures during this exercise," the tragedy likely wouldn't have occurred.

Example given: In my fire department, we have to travel some distance to perform our annual live fire training, which is costly and inconvenient. I notified my officers that I was evaluating an acquired structure (old house) that a neighboring community was using for live fire training. My officers immediately objected to the idea on a safety basis and supported their objection with solid reasoning. We decided to not pursue the non time-constrained/high-risk training in that location.

Although voting early may be detrimental to the problem-solving process in a non time-
constrained/low-risk environment, it is very useful in a non time-constrained/high-risk environment.

Michael Roberto said...

Good point. I simply believe that there are more effective techniques for encouraging people to speak up, even in high risk situations. However, I understand how and why it might be effective in the situation you describe. Thanks for commenting!

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