Handling Uncertainty in Group Decision-Making

Handling Uncertainty in Group Decision-Making

Let’s look at a common meeting issue that causes delay, swirl, frustration – and afterward, uncoordinated action. That classic phrase, “It depends.”

There has been good dialogue covering the topic at hand and the meeting facilitator is converging the group towards putting a stake in the ground. “So, we have discussed X, looked at Y, and understood more about Z. Is it fair to say that we should assume V will work?”

As people start to nod their heads, one of them submits, “Well, it depends.”

Pause. Halt. Drop Anchor.

You feel slightly irritated. It’s not that this person is a troublemaker, the devil’s advocator, the oxygen vacuum. It’s more likely they are a fair-minded, intelligent, and reasonable peer or team who collaborates well.

It’s just that you knew it might happen. The closer you get to requiring participants to commit verbally, the harder-to-discuss and tacit thoughts surface. The problem is that you only have this group for two, four, eight hours and you still have much ground to cover. You’ve just spent a lot of time on this one item, was bringing it to a close, already thinking about where you’ll go next.

But someone just put their foot on the brake and triggered an emergency stop.

You ask him, “OK, can you say more?”, doing your best to keep the tone neutral. And he responds, “Well, I understand why you are asking if we can go forward assuming V will work, but it depends. You see, if A acquires B, V’s success is far from certain. But if A doesn’t acquire B, I think V is more viable. That’s why I’m not comfortable agreeing to move forward assuming V is OK, because we don’t know yet what A’s going to do.”


How do you respond?

Do you break out of facilitating mode and become a domain expert, telling him that one of the two paths is most likely, “I don’t see A buying B in the next two years.” Nodding strongly as you say it so that he will nod back and accept that view.

Or does someone else resolve his dilemma, perhaps someone more senior; “John, it’s a good point. Yes, I see A buying B. Let’s assume that will be the case.” There is no dialogue. It’s a directive.

Either of these responses work in the moment to ‘shut him up’ and get onto the agreement about V.

But they don’t actually work because John just acquiesced to the group, thinking ‘There are bigger fish to fry.’ After the meeting, his actions, and inaction, are driven by the fact that he doesn’t agree with the assumption about V – because it still depends.

Or, he holds his ground and pushes the point. “No, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to slow us down but I think what A does will determine whether or not V is valid. And it’s just not certain yet what A will do.”

How do you get around this roadblock? How do you keep the meeting’s momentum and address his valid point with a valid response in as little time as possible?

Technologies like, Slack, Zoom and Trello etc. play a useful role in remote working, however, are limited in genuinely optimising alignment of teams.


To find out how Rialto are working with organisations to optimise alignment and collaboration to secure future business objectives, please click here to make an enquiry or contact Richard Chiumento on 07768 713 293 or rchiumento@rialtoconsultancy.com

Alternatively click here to book a 15 minute call directly with Richard Chiumento.

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