A Practical Guide To Better Meetings And Shared Decision Making
By Eli Mina Published by the American Management Association (AMACOM, 2002)
Table of Contents


This book is intended to assist corporate and civic leaders in planning and facilitating meetings and consensus building efforts. It is much more than a meetings book. A major portion of it shows you how to create a healthy foundation for your group's consensus building efforts. Once the foundation is set, the book give you tools to respond to the many challenges of planning and running meetings.

This book is highly practical. In writing it I assumed that you are a busy manager or executive who needs practical and proven tools for immediate use, without spending much time analyzing theoretical concepts. The book is based on many years of hands-on experience of planning and facilitating meetings and consensus building efforts, ranging from peaceful and harmonious settings to ones which are complex, controversial and dysfunctional. I am sharing the lessons learned from both the successes and failures I've had as a professional meeting facilitator and procedural advisor.

The need for this book arises from the increasing appetite by organizations to shift from 'telling people what to do' to empowering and involving them in corporate decision making. The idea of including individuals in participatory decision making is not new and is great in theory, but it often fails miserably on the ground. There is growing cynicism towards "pretend democracies", where managers claim to be inclusive, but use their clout to impose the decisions that really count. The other extreme is when corporate democracy becomes a free-for-all, with all accountability is lost and with vocal minorities getting their way, leaving the manager and others wondering what went wrong.

Is there a place for meaningful but responsible democracy in your meetings and corporate decision making? Is corporate democracy desirable and, if so, is your management team truly ready to embrace it? Are you ready to manage the risks of letting go of control and empowering staff to make or influence decisions? Conversely, are your staff members ready to operate more proactively? Are they willing to let go of the dependency on others for leadership? Will they take more initiative? Will they pay the price of the greater accountability that comes with higher levels of empowerment?

And if you already have a degree of democracy in your organization, how meaningful is it? Do you have an accurate reading of the pulse of the majority, or are you governed by the most vocal and outspoken individuals? Are participants in your meetings speaking up, and is their input genuinely making a difference? Are their collective recommendations taken seriously? How often and to what degree is their consensus embraced and implemented?

And just what does corporate democracy mean in your organization? Does it mean you do everything that staff wants you to do, making it a free-for-all? What can you do to balance the need to benefit from the talents and expertise of staff and stakeholders with the need to maintain accountability and make responsible and profitable decisions?

The above questions must be addressed at the highest levels of your organization and at each decision making level. The answers to these questions will determine which of the tools offered in this book should be used and the degree to which they will apply.

In my view, there is a need and a place for responsible democracy in corporations, even though chief executive officers are not elected by their subordinates, and even though managers often have the full power to act without consultation. If well managed, corporate democracy can help you boost the quality of your decisions by capitalizing on the knowledge and expertise of individuals. It can also increase staff loyalty and commitment to the organization and its mandate. But to truly gain from corporate democracy you need tools to reap its benefits while managing the risks associated with it.

In this book I offer tools to help you establish a healthy, meaningful and responsible democracy in your own team and your entire organization. Using these tools, you should be able to engage your staff and stakeholders in discussions and decision making, while maintaining accountability and ensuring that responsible, credible and durable corporate decisions are made.

The types of tools you'll find in this book include:

  • Proven ideas and tips to turn problems into opportunities
  • Scripts for managing meetings
  • Scripts to deal with difficult people and challenging situations
  • Tables and checklists
  • Assessment tools
  • Case studies

Some of the tools in this book are accompanied by an explanation of the suggested approach and its effects. In other instances, such as the many scripts offered, my approach is implied in the tool itself and no detailed explanation or analysis are given.

This book is not meant to be read cover to cover in one stretch and then filed away on your shelf. It is meant to be used as a reference on an on going basis. I suggest you experiment with some tools and ideas, and then come back for more. Some of the ideas will be useful in the immediate term, some you'll need to modify, some will be useful later, and some will not apply to your meetings in their present form. Improving your meetings should be an evolutionary, not a revolutionary process.

Here are some of the things this book will not give you:

  • This book does not cover rules of order for formal meetings, in which motions, amendments, points of order and other formal procedures are used. If you need ideas on how to simplify, demystify and humanize the rules of order and parliamentary procedure, you may want to review chapter 7 in "The Complete Handbook of Business Meetings" (AMACOM 2000).
  • Although this book addresses sensitive issues like personal conflict of interest, confidentiality and 'in-camera' meetings, it does not offer legal advice. I am not a lawyer, and I therefore focus only on the practical impacts of these sensitive issues on meetings and consensus building.
  • As tempting as it may be, I cannot claim this book is an all-inclusive encyclopedia of ideas and tools to improve your meetings and consensus building efforts. I fully anticipate that, by the time the book is published, I will have chaired many more meetings and will have led many more training programs, which will undoubtedly expand my inventory of tools and ideas. However, I expect the fundamentals and the principles behind my approach to remain the same.

The book is structured as follows:

  • Part 1 (chapters 1 to 7) includes tools to build a healthy foundation for consensus building and shared decision making.
  • Part 2 (chapters 8 to 18) includes tools with which to plan and manage meetings.
  • The appendices include case studies that show you how the approach given in this book can be used to deal with challenging and complex situations.
Eli Mina's guiding principles for meetings and consensus building:
  • A healthy meeting may be impossible to achieve if the organization itself is not healthy.
  • The success of a meeting is ultimately measured by the quality of the decisions made in it.
  • The process of reaching a collective decision is just as important as the decision itself.
  • In a good meeting everyone arrives at the same destination at the same time, as proactive and enthusiastic partners, not as reluctant neighbors.
  • Your challenge in a meeting is to create the right balance between inclusiveness and efficiency.
  • Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to a misunderstanding or systemic problem.
  • To truly gain control, a leader must know how to share control and build partnerships.
  • It is much easier to be a critic and oppose something than to be a creator and propose a better alternative.
  • We were given two ears and one mouth, so we could listen at least twice as much as we speak.
  • Diversity of opinions is something to celebrate. An opposing view or a piece of criticism should not be seen as a threat, but as another piece of the bigger truth.



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