How would you like to confidently lead a group of diverse people to make a rapid collective decision anytime and anywhere? Of course you would. Who wouldn’t? Well after learning the tool in this article, you’ll be able to say with confidence “If it’s possible for this group to reach a collective decision, I can help them do it.”
Consider a recent case. In preparing to facilitate an annual Board retreat, I learned that the Board President held one major outcome: to make decisions on four complex issues facing the organization. He also had one important condition in that he wanted consensus decisions from the twenty-five board members attending the meeting. Even though these were his outcomes, he had doubts because he kept asking me if I really thought they could accomplish this! I kept saying “Sure you can!” And so can you.
The secret is to use a simple and powerful tool called ORID developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs to help diverse people work together productively. To get started, first set the context so that people can support you. In my case, I asked the Board President to open by stating the purpose of the meeting as a decision making meeting and asking everyone if, given a fair process, they would be willing to put their best effort into reaching decisions that they could whole-heartedly support. Everyone said “yes.” Then he introduced me and said that I would ensure fair process. I asked the group to agree to a few ground rules for the meeting including taking responsibility for their own communication, making sure that their own voice is heard, and truly considering the views of others. People also agreed to these, so the context was now set.
Then, I applied the trusty ORID process four times, once to each topic. The group made six unanimous decisions about how to move forward on the four sticky issues!
ORID’s power comes from exposing and applying the human “inference ladder” of reasoning. That’s the conceptual ladder that your reasoning process “climbs,” usually subconsciously and instantaneously, between the time your senses receive any kind of stimulus and the time you act on that stimulus. Here are four of the ladder rungs:
Selective Perception: Every person filters some data out and lets other data in.
Emotional reaction: We each have immediate positive or negative emotional reactions to most all stimuli.
Sense-making: Everyone assigns meaning to data based on our unique filters (beliefs, drives and experiences).
Action: We take actions based on our own inferences about data.
Here’s an example:
- A loud alarm rings!!! (selective perception)
- “Ugh…” (emotional reaction)
- “It’s time to get out of bed.” (sense-making)
- Stumble to the bathroom. (action)
Decision making groups get bogged down when it’s members climb the first three rungs silently, subconsciously and individually. Most people in decision-making groups only speak to each other about the last rung — individual preferences for the action. I call this jumping to the “We should” statements. However, each member may have reached their preference for the group action based on different stimuli, different emotional reactions, and different interpretations.
The ORID technique ensures that the group visits each rung of the ladder together. Here is how it works. After the group shares a common experience (informational presentation, document, etc.), lead them through the following five steps:
1. O (for Objective): Ask the members what they recall seeing or hearing and list their answers on flip chart paper. Caution: Keep people focused on what they observed with their senses. Disallow interpretations and opinions at this stage.
2. R+ (for Reflective positive): Ask members what they had positive reactions to and list their responses.
3. R- (for Reflective negative): Ask members what they had negative reactions to and list their responses. What will be positive for some may be negative for others. That’s okay and exactly why you are doing this.
4. I (for Interpretive): Ask members what sense they make of the data and record their responses. Hint: It’s easier to assign meaning by thinking about what headline a reporter might write about this data.
5. D (for Decisional): Ask the members what decisions they can now make as a group. Help them work individual proposals into consensus decisions.
About the Author: Christopher M. Avery, Ph.D. is one of the most outspoken, celebrated, and successful authorities on individual and team performance available to executives and corporations today. His extensive research focuses exclusively on how professionals build, maintain and leverage successful and productive relationships with people over whom they have no direct control. Visit his website at: www.partnerwerks.com.
Resources. There are two books that are the major source for the ORID method.
The Art of Focused Conversation, by Brian Stanfield, co-published by New Society Publishers and the Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, 1999.
The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools, by Jo Nelson, co-published by New Society Publishers and the Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, 2001.