Lately, I’ve been pondering group decision-making processes –contexts, methods and tools, challenges. I was confident it was worth the attention because this little building block of life with others can be a place to get so much right. Society can be tough to change, but we have straightforward ways to make those everyday moments of decision a place for new and improved thinking and of true inclusivity and equality. They are opportunities (if we grab them) to build muscle strength in civic participation, widely defined.
Then I realized I’d been forgetting something critical about why we should care about group decision-making: When done well, it feels AMAZING.
I spent some of my most cherished summers on staff at a summer camp along with about 125 girls. One season, there was controversy about a line in the lyrics of one of the songs we’d belt out after breakfast. People had different opinions about the meaning, and some felt the words should be changed to reflect something more in line with our values. Others felt we should honor the integrity of the song. Some people didn’t have a strong opinion about the words but really didn’t want to stumble with awkward rhythm if they were changed. One morning we sat with one of the staff managing the conversation. Kids and counselors alike shared their opinions, came up with alternatives. At one point we thought we might be there, but one girl put her hand up with an objection which was considered and handled. Shortly after, though, Fitch asked again: “Do we have consensus?” and there was a stillness that came from unity. Almost 150 people had figured out, by listening to each other, the best way to move forward. The question may or may not have been deeply consequential, but the process was worth every minute.
I can think of a few reasons this kind of experience is rare:
We often come to decisions with the intention to minimize controversy and time, instead of appreciating their potential as places to build shared understanding.
We can be overly selective about our involvement - highly invested in the outcome of some decisions and apathetic on others (“I’ll leave the finances up to you…”) instead of bringing thoughtfulness and curiosity to it all.
It requires clear equivalence: If we share perspectives hoping to influence the person in charge we may feel great if we succeed. A win-lose game, however, doesn’t generate the same sensation as building something together as equals.
There’s power we’re neglecting - it’s as if we had been given a flying broomstick but were only using it to sweep the floor. These moments have the potential not just to lead to clear next steps, but to leave people feeling connected and with a sense of purpose that transcends individual will. Why not take advantage?