Working With a Deliberative Process

All of us have worked on committees or boards where there is an individual for whom their approach to committee work and discussion is always a battle for their own perspective or conviction.   They come to the board with certain expertise or experience and as often as not they feel strongly about this or that question and it shapes the way they enter into the deliberations.   And their assumption, as often as not, is that they are right:  their view or perspective should carry the day.   And they are flummoxed and perplexed when they are out-voted or when their perspective or their wisdom did not get the support of others. 

There are few things so crucial to being part of an organization – whether on a working team or a committee or board as this:  learning to work within a deliberative process towards a shared or common outcome.   And we approach this process out of a conviction that no one person has the wisdom needed for the question or challenge that the organization is facing.   We need wisdom and expertise; but we come by our wisdom through a deliberative exercise of giving and taking and listening and working collaboratively towards a shared vision of what we need to do.

In saying all of this, I am most certainly not using the language of “consensus”.   Neither for a moment am I suggesting that we only move forward when we have unanimity – though there may be unique circumstances when we all agree that given the situation at hand we can only move forward on this or that matter if and as we all agree that this is the right step.   Rather, two things:  first, when all is said and done, someone needs to make the call.   Either the senior executive leader or the body as a whole when a vote is taken and the majority determine the course of action.   So on a senior executive team, for example, there is the deliberative process; but in the end, the president makes the call.   And in a committee or board process, at some point the chair or the moderator will call for the vote.   And in either case, not everyone will agree with the action taken:  a member of the senior executive team may well differ with the actions taken by the president.   And on the committee or board, some will vote in the minority.   And here’s the point that needs to be made:   strong and effective organizations “manage” that minority or dissenting voice or vote effectively. 

First, when the action is taken – the president makes the call even though there are those who differ with the decision – the president should respectfully acknowledge the difference of opinion and not view this as a lack of loyalty or a failure to support the president.   And a moderator can acknowledge those who voted in the minority and actually thank them for participating in the process and perhaps even acknowledge that their perspective needed to be heard. 

But second, also imperative is that those who do not agree with what is being done – they disagree with the president as a member of the team, or they voted in the minority on the board or committee – need to graciously accept the outcome.   That is, you join a senior leadership team knowing that when there is a deliberative process, in the end the president will make the call.   And if you join a board, or a committee, you will very possibly get out-voted.   Managing this graciously – affirming the process, that you personally do not have the last word, that you have the right to speak and contribute but that in the end you are only one voice – is essential to what it means to be part of an organization.   You will not always get your way; your opinion may be held very strongly and you may hold your convictions deeply.   But in the end, you defer:  without resentment, without hard feelings, without feeling that we have been personally dismissed or insulted or not taken seriously.   Why?  Because while our personal views matter, they are located within and organization and we humbly recognize that the organization can only work, it can only be effective, if there is a system of governance with appointed executive leadership and a due process to get to the actions that will be taken.   

The alternative is to start your own organization with the assumption that you are the boss.  And that is an option, of course.  But if you want to be part of something much bigger than yourself, you learn to graciously accept how the organization works and how you can most effectively contribute to it and it also means that you accept that sometimes, perhaps even often, you will say:   madam president, I have spoken my mind but in the end, it is your call . . .or, you will speak your mind but affirm that you will support the action of the committee when the vote is taken.  

Author

Gordon T. Smith

Gordon T. Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ambrose is an institution owned by the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It includes a whole range of undergraduate programs, including education, business, music, behavioural sciences an biology, as well as history, English and psychology. Ambrose also includes an undergraduate school of ministry formation. And, last but not least, there is Ambrose Seminary, a fully accredited graduate level institution of theological formation. Gordon has been the president since August of 2012.

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