Retention Secret #8: Participatory Decision-Making

Everyone knows that feeling like you’re a valuable member of team can go a long ways towards engaging and retaining employees. That’s why more and more employers have adopted a teamwork approach to many aspects of work in modern organizations. And yet some organizations eventually kind of give up on the teamwork concept because it winds up feeling like too much work. I think this is largely due to a lack of skill and knowledge around what goes into good decision-making processes. It’s one thing to say that everyone’s input is important, but it’s another thing entirely to take a group of people and have them all participate in making a decision.


Imagine this scenario: You’re in an important team meeting about improving the profitability of one your company’s product lines. The group begins by spending a good chunk of the time brainstorming all the different reasons why profitability is stagnating or declining along with all the ways it could be improved. Ideas are being generated so fast it’s hard to get them all written down. Then the team leader says it’s time to choose which three of these many ideas will be the components of a turnaround plan for the product line.

People start stating their opinions about why this one or that one should be chosen. It takes a long time for everyone to say what they think. Pretty soon it’s clear that people are getting antsy, and the group is no closer to a decision because everyone has their own ideas about what should be chosen. It seems like there’s very little if any common ground. The group is stuck, tired and frustrated. The turnaround plan for the product line is put on hold and eventually falls to the wayside with no solutions and no results.

Sound familiar? Once the brainstorming is done, things all too often grind to a screeching halt when it comes to taking all that input and bringing the process to closure by facilitating the making of an actual decision.

A big part of the problem is that people just don’t understand the actual process that groups go through when making participatory decisions. And if you don’t know what to expect, then you can get completely derailed when things feel like they aren’t going very smoothly.

The first thing to understand is that the participatory, group decision-making process is made up of two sequential processes. The first part of the process is divergent because everyone is contributing a wide variety of ideas. That’s the brainstorming process with which most people are familiar. But the next part is the convergent part of the process where you narrow things back down to an actual decision point. It’s just the way the dynamics work in any group decision-making process. The problem is that transitioning from the divergent part of the process to the convergent part is difficult, and is often referred to as the “groan zone.” But it’s less likely to throw your group completely off if people can recognize it as a necessary part of the process.

There’s also no way around the fact that in order to engage the fullness of the participatory decision-making process, everyone will be better off with some facilitation training. Some of the essential skill-sets that should be imparted in basic facilitator training for all employees include the following:

  • Facilitative listening
  • Facilitating open dialogues
  • Alternatives to discussion
  • Chartpack recording skills
  • Brainstorming techniques
  • Managing long lists
  • Dealing with difficulties
  • Formulating feasible agendas

Each one of those skillsets is made up of a number of different tools or techniques that equip people for better group decision-making. If you take the time to train employees in facilitation and group decision-making, not only will they be better equipped to participate in and even lead group decision-making, they’ll also be more likely to stick around because they feel like their participation is valued.

November 18, 2014   Updated :March 23, 2015   decision-making, engagement, participation, retention   

One response to “Retention Secret #8: Participatory Decision-Making”

  1. […] management (see Retention Secret #7: Open Book Management), participatory decision-making (see Retention Secret #8: Participatory Decision-Making), better performance feedback (download a free copy of the white paper, Performance Management: New […]

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