The Need For Understanding The Decision Making Process
Does your leadership team get in needless (not to mention ungodly) squabbles when trying to make decisions? Do you feel you are successful at facilitating change by building consensus? Leading a home group largely entails making decisions, some with large impact, and some less so. Here is a short list of some of the common areas of decision making:
- Home group structure (what nights to meet, how frequently, what time, who to include in your smaller equipping group [cell groups in Xenos], what Central Teaching to go to, etc.)
- How should we proceed in helping this person with this sin issue? How should we approach them? What factors should we consider?
- Home group activities (retreats — where should we go, what should we teach, focus on Christians or non-Christians; should we do parties or a Conversation & Cuisine?...)
- What should our plant plan look like? Who should go to what side?
- Who should follow-up the new person? Who should disciple whom?
- What should we teach in home group? Cell group?
- What should we discuss during the leaders meeting?
- Who are our next leaders? Why them? When might they be ready?
The list could go on and on. Almost every action we take in our role as leaders is preceded by a decision. And most decisions are made after discussion with our leadership team and trainees who attend the meeting.
Sadly, in this context, leadership teams often suffer conflict, disunity and relational damage. Too often, opportunities for developing younger leaders or trainees are missed. Leadership styles vary and there is no one right way to make decisions in a corporate setting, but it is usually leaders who are too passive or too authoritarian who contribute most to these problems. However, the rudiments of good decision making and building consensus are not hard to learn.
NOTE: These principles work in other settings quite well too. For example, there are times where including all of the workers in the home group in the decision is helpful and beneficial to them. This simple approach can be applied to cell groups and workers meetings just as well.
WHY DO WE HAVE CONFLICT OVER DECISIONS? Our "self-life" often rears its ugly head when we are confronted with a decision about which we have a strong opinion. We erroneously believe if we are first to communicate our preference and rationale, then we can bend others to our will. Depending on our communication skills and personality, this might even "work". But an opportunity for training and developing unity has been lost, and so has the opportunity for the best possible decision!
- We must have a category for allowing one person to make the quick and important decision when time is of the absolute essence. These occurrences should be few and far between, however; or you are likely dealing with someone who is too authoritarian in their approach. The benefits of properly working through the decision-making process usually far outweigh any harm done by delaying the decision (you will slow the decision process when applying these principles properly).
- Although consensus or agreement on the final decision is preferable, it is not required or always possible. Sometimes all the leaders will not be in agreement even after appropriate discussion. In these instances, when a decision cannot be put off any longer, Senior Leaders need to decide whose idea to go with.
I propose a practical model leaders can apply in diverse settings, which permits plenty of flexibility for adapting to subtle nuances of individual situations. The goals are:
- A good decision
- A decision made by consensus (whenever possible)
- Leaders and trainees understand why it is a good decision
- Everyone has the opportunity to give his or her input
- The onus is on the leader(s) to righteously consider all views.
- The leaders should willing to change from their view when possible.
- The passion or intensity of communication should be guided by the importance of the decision.
Ask yourself, "Is the area being discussed moral or amoral?" This should be one of the first considerations to determine the weight of the topic. We don't treat non-moral areas with the same passion as moral ones, although there are some amoral decisions that can have significant ramifications on your group or an individual.
- Amoral topic #1: what book of the Bible to teach next in home group. Important for certain yet not worth a passionate insistence on one direction.
- Amoral topic #2: what night of the week the home group should meet on. Important and depending on what might be lost by choosing a particular night, passion (not ungodliness) might need to be communicated and a particular evening fought for (in a godly way). EG - in Xenos, we wouldn't want a home group to meet on a Wednesday night because we hold fellowship-wide classes that night. We don't want home group members to have to decide between getting equipped and experiencing fellowship when BOTH are biblical principles of New Testament community.
- When consensus cannot be reached, the senior leader has a particular responsibility to be willing to put their own interests aside and consider others' preferences. Looking back on the history of the group, the senior leader should see many instances where they deferred to another person's preference even when feeling their own idea was the best. Yet, there will also be times when leaders must be willing to stand strong in their opinion, even when others disagree.
Four Steps of the Decision Making Process
1. Discuss what factors should be considered in this decision.
It is much easier to implement a decision when there is first a consensus (general agreement). The process for building consensus on a leadership team (or any group setting) usually, and ideally, begins with a discussion about the factors that should be considered in making the decision.
Factors often include theological precepts, principles, and logistic factors.
The senior and more experienced leaders should use this first step as an opportunity to train people in how to make decisions. Explain this process to them and begin by telling them why you are discussing "factors" first. Asking others what principles and factors should be considered and instructing where necessary is fundamental to leadership training.
If the people have the opportunity to air their views on the factors, it does a lot to begin to gel consensus and respectful communications. This pattern will be needed later when each person gives his or her actual preferences (#3). Sadly, many offer what decision they think should be made based on their first inclination rather than following a comprehensive evaluation of all the factors. Insufficient time spent on this first step can lead to disagreements and other problems among the team. The senior and more outspoken leaders should try to be the last to offer their input on what factors need to be considered. In other words, in this step we DON'T discuss what decision we think should be made regarding the issue - that is step 3.
Some decisions are also beneficial to bring to the attention of the other workers (non-leaders or those in training). Start at the same spot by first discussing the factors. In our structure, this can be done in cell groups (small men's and women's bible studies that are a subset of the home group) or workers meetings (a combined cell meeting). In these settings, you are trying to broaden the base of consensus. You might be soliciting their opinions on something before a decision needs to be made, or trying to explain a decision already made, but educating them on the rationale.
The decision(s): Your leadership team is trying to decide what topic to cover on the home group retreat, how many teachings to have, and what time to do the teachings.
The factors that should be drawn out via discussion:
- What are the needs of the group (more evangelism, more sanctification, ministry training)?
- What are the demographics of the group (tons of kids, none, singles)?
- How many days or weeks before the retreat do teachers have to prepare?
- How many solid teachers do you have, etc.?
2. Discuss which factors deserve more consideration
In this step you will set priorities and discuss why certain factors or principles deserve more weight than the others. Again, discussion format and soliciting others' views first works best.
- "Needs of the group" is decided to be the number one priority in deciding the retreat topic and it's agreed that it is evangelism — you are low on outreach.
- "Demographics" show you will have a lot of children at the retreat so you decide this is the essential factor in setting up the teaching schedule.
- "Time before the retreat" is short, and you have little time to prepare, so you will give the topics to your most experienced teachers (which you probably should have for the sake of the outreach — another factor).
3. Finally it is time to give our opinions on what decision should be made
Based on the above agreements, it's time to give our opinion on what WE think the decision should be.
In general, the more experienced we are in leadership the better it is to let others speak first. There is no race to get our opinion out; nothing to be afraid of if someone thinks something different. We'll still get our turn and we won't have "muddied the waters" by giving our opinion first.
As mentioned in the attitudes, but worth remembering: We should have a track record of being willing to defer to others' ideas and preferences. There will also be those times where we have heard and considered others' views, but still need to go with our opinion.
You agreed your group needed evangelism more than anything else — so your topic is limited to topics non-Christians would be most interested in. Challenging the Christians in your group would not be a priority although not ignored.
You have a lot of young children whose parents are in the group. The number and length of teachings, start times and gaps between teachings will need to take into consideration several factors: how long baby-sitters can stay, the need for parents to touch base with their kids for an hour or so between teachings, time to prep food, etc.
You have three experienced and gifted teachers. Therefore they are requested to prepare and teach on the topic of choice.
The decisions and planning become much easier to agree upon when the primary goals and concerns affecting that decision have been agreed upon first.
4. Decision-making time!
At this point, often the decision is obvious and most, if not all the leaders are in agreement. If there is a Senior Leader of the leadership team, he or she would probably speak up at this point and communicate the obvious. But...
"What! You still can't agree?"
If there is not consensus at this point, you need to decide how time-sensitive the decision is. Often, the bigger the decision, the better to give people time to consider the discussion and pray about it. You always can return another day to revisit the subject.
However, once the point is reached when a decision must be made, the senior leader has the responsibility to weigh all the opinions and decide.
The example used was an obviously non-moral situation, yet typical of those that can lead to unity problems. This approach works as well for more difficult issues like how to help brothers or sisters who are in sin. As mentioned, this approach is also effective in leading cell groups or workers meetings, even if you are explaining a decision the leaders already have made.
The repeated theme in the Bible is the explanation of why we do what God commands us to do. He accomplishes this by coupling imperatives (his commands) with indicatives (a description of what he has done, is doing, or will do). In the same way, this approach enables us to clarify and train others about the reasons behind the decisions. Doing this results in decisions reflecting sound judgment, and helps leadership teams grow in unity and wisdom through their experience.