Decision-making and Problem-solving

Sabbath School leaders would do well to have a written document to draw upon when frustration about decisions and problems confront the group. Research can unearth many useful items to include in your toolbox. Let’s look at a few.

For this, perhaps the oldest and most frequently used method of decision-making, the leader asks for a straw vote or a show of hands about the motion before the group. This method, while efficient, has the potential for having 50 percent of the members feeling like losers. So it is best used when required by the group’s constitution or rules, when the group needs to make relatively minor decisions, or when dealing with issues that are not very controversial.

This process generates as many unedited ideas or solutions as is possible during a short period of time. Group members agree not to judge, put down, or laugh at any idea.

One way to set the process into motion is to have group members think silently by themselves or even write their ideas and solutions. At a designated time the leader asks each person to move into pairs or groups of four or five to share what has been written. The next task is to eliminate duplications and to merge recurring themes. New ideas may come to mind during this process as one person’s idea extends another’s idea to form an even better solution.

Or one or more scribes write the free flow of voiced ideas as group members speak in turn. Displaying ideas on two flipcharts in different sections of the room also speeds up the process. Eventually all the ideas are placed in a list and ranked by first to last preference.

Decision-making is easy if one idea shines brighter than all others, but this is rarely the case. One of the other decision-making methods can then be used to complete the process.

Buzz groups
Divide large groups into five-member teams and set a time frame for the small groups to “buzz!” Each small group appoints a facilitator, a scribe who records ideas, and a spokesperson who will report to the large group. Each group looks at advantages and disadvantages of proposed solutions and records their rationale for their decision. When spokespersons give summaries, a scribe highlights duplicate ideas so the larger group has less information to analyze.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean that all group members have the same opinion. Rather it means that after wrestling together with an issue they all will support the decision. Consensus should be the strategy of choice if the group is large. It also is not best used if trust and an open platform has not been established for sharing any opinion without being personally attacked by another member. In contrast to voting, the process a leader must use to have a group come to a shared agreement on an issue is much more time-consuming. Though the leader may be frustrated about the time involved, he or she must consider the time that dealing with conflict and interpersonal strife can take if shared meaning and support by all members are not attained. It is exciting to feel the energy in a group that has wrestled with an issue and finally does make a decision by consensus.

Standard agenda
The standard agenda is a more complex but very effective model to follow in problem-solving. The magic of this idea is that each member of the group has an exact step-by-step process that the group has decided to follow together until a sound solution to the problem is found. It is great if the group feels that it has enough information to move to the next step in the problem-solving process. The group must first agree not to move to the next step just to get the task accomplished.

Though this article does not allow a detailed explanation of each step, the founder of this process is John Dewey, who in 1910 wrote a book entitled How We Think. Although revised some throughout the years, Dewey’s reflective-thinking process has become an accepted guideline for problem-solving. For those interested in learning more, a search in any library or on the Internet will result in more detail on how this process works. Let me whet your appetite by simply listing a seven-step version that I use in my classes.

  1. Clarify the task.
  2. Identify the problem.
  3. Do fact-finding and problem analysis.
  4. Set solution criteria and limitations.
  5. Gather solution suggestions.
  6. Evaluate solution and choose.
  7. Implement solution. Problem-solving and decision-making are never simple.

Yet having options and using more than one method based on the current needs of the group make group life sweeter for both leaders and group members.

Carole Kilcher
© 2004 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists