Unleashing the Power of Group Wisdom

Why is it so difficult to make good decisions in groups? We know that the benefits of group decision-making are substantial: better thinking, more viable and sustainable action plans, a stronger sense of ownership for achieving a desired outcome. In fact, when done properly, group decision-making may be our best hope for solving difficult, complex issues. Unfortunately, group discussions often result in decisions that lack imagination, thoughtful consideration, or inclusiveness.

group discussionsSo why do smart, well-intentioned people often struggle with making good decisions in groups? According to Sam Kaner, author of Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, “the answer is deeply rooted in prevailing cultural values that make it difficult for people to actually think in groups.” Kaner explains that some of the obstacles to productive group interactions include a lack of good listening skills, a strong need to move to action without adequate consideration or discussion, and treating a difference of opinion as conflict that must be “stifled or solved.”

To move beyond these typical issues, Kaner suggests that groups employ a facilitator, a neutral third party who can help the group members do their best thinking. Good facilitators, he explains, “strengthen the effectiveness of the group of people who are there to get work done.” The facilitator “helps, serves, teaches, and guides,” while the group members themselves “resolve, decide, produce and act.” Good facilitators understand group dynamics, and value the process of group decision-making. They use their skills to help group members tap into their own collective wisdom.

group decisionsA facilitator can help a group move beyond the familiar, often unproductive, patterns of communication, and encourages a sense of shared responsibility, empowering group members to speak up, listen, and effectively participate in the process. According to Kaner, the group facilitator’s three core competencies include:

  • Building and sustaining a respectful, supportive atmosphere
  • Managing the process, but allowing the group to direct the content of the discussion
  • Teaching the group members new thinking skills to help build their capacity for collaboration

Are you interested in strengthening your facilitation skills? Contact Becky Nesbitt at nesbitt.21@osu.edu to learn more about OSU Extension’s facilitation training. For more info, visit the CD webpage.

Seek Excellence logoBecky Nesbitt is an Assistant Professor and Extension Educator in Community Development with OSU Extension. 

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