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Providing structure provides fairness

In this spontaneous outdoor video, Craig explains how meeting agendas and facilitators level the playing field and minimize the harmful effects of dominant people and power imbalances.

Craig has written about related concepts in his Good Group Tips: Structure sets you free, No one dominates, Clarify discuss decide, Rules first, and Facilitation.


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here outside the Augusta Civic Center in Maine’s capital city. I remember when the Grateful Dead played here, two nights, in 1984. I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about a concept called providing structure provides fairness.

Let’s say you’ve got a meeting coming up or maybe there’s some sort of a conflict and a decision has to be made. In those situations you might hear somebody say something like, “We don’t need an agenda. We don’t need a facilitator. We don’t need a mediator. We’ll be fine. We’ll just work it out.” But often times the person who is promoting that process — which is really not much process, just “oh we’ll work it out” — most times that person is in a position of power. And to not have any kind of process is in their best self interests.

That kind of person does well when there is no facilitator, no agenda, and no mediator. That person — who might suggest such a thing — is good at negotiating, doesn’t mind interrupting people, has a dominant personality, is a fast thinker, and is very quick to promote their own ideas. If you’re that kind of person and you are self-interested and want to get your way, then you probably don’t like facilitators, agendas, or mediators.

But here’s the thing, if you’re the type of person who wants the very best decision for the group as a whole, keep in mind the principle that structure provides fairness.

When there is a facilitator, that person might have ground rules and enforce ground rules and one of the ground rules might be, “people get called on to speak and they don’t interrupt each other.” Or that,  “everybody gets a chance to speak once before anybody speaks twice.” If there is no agenda then those that are most dominant will effectively set the agenda. But if you have a structure for agenda setting and everybody has equal access to it, then you have a better chance of spending time on the issues that everyone cares about and not just those that a few people care about.

Another way to provide structure is by establishing decision criteria. Sometimes a group or two people will put off a decision down the road and say, “Well, you know, we’ll just work it out.” What tends to happen in those “we’ll just work it out” scenarios is that the politically stronger people — or just by virtue of their personality types or other power imbalances — the dominant people will prevail. We can alternatively establish decision criteria in advance and we can say something like, “Yes we’ll work it out later but when we do we are going to apply these three or five or seven decision criteria. Maybe we’ll even weight them, maybe even score them and allow that to make the decision.” Lack of decision criteria leaves decisions up to politics, essentially.

Now I’m not trying to say that every person who suggests a lack of structure is self-interested or a bully or wants to dominate other people. That’s not the case at all. But what I am trying to point out is that when you provide structure you provide fairness. And you are more likely to hear the voices of everyone, the dominant people included, but you’re more likely to hear the perspectives, the opinions, the ideas that everybody has to contribute. And you’re more likely to make a good group decision.

Thanks a lot everybody! Thanks for listening.

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