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Effective Group Discussion

Let us say you find yourself in a group discussion. Chances are that if there is no one in the group with experience of leading a group discussion effectively, the process will leave everyone high and dry. Having various people around a table, all given the job to participate in the discussion and coming to a conclusion is a frightening position to find oneself for many. In this article, we are going to learn how to make group discussions effective and achieve the following results:

1. Having conclusion: Groups oscillate between diverging and converging views on any topic or agenda. Ending the meeting without a conclusion even if it might not be perfect, is pretty much like a movie that ends abruptly in the middle when the villain temporarily defeats the hero. 

2. Identification of actual problem or issue: With many heads (and mouths), comes many interpretation of the same events, the discussion turns into the parable of the five blind men and the elephant. One man says, “They said elephants are huge, but as I am experiencing myself, I think they lied because it is like a snake.” This blind man was touching the trunk. Therefore, the objective here is to reach an agreement on what is the problem to solve.

3. Solutions: Two scenarios unfold. First, no one offers a solution. Second, everybody pushes his/her solution. Bias towards a solution because of social pressure or political maneuvering will nullify the discussion. A solution that best answers the problem simply because it is the best, is the best way to end a discussion. 

4. Commitment from participants where needed:  Finally, many group discussions require some form of commitment to do something, or stop doing something. Not forgetting to enforce such commitment is crucial. 

Despite this being obvious most of the times group discussions are organized without a clear agenda.  Agenda’s can be as follows:

  • Finalize on the policy of procurement
  • Strategic planning
  • Brainstorm on new product launch
  • Review of last quarter
  • Budgeting for next fiscal year
  • Conflict resolution between the shareholders or partners
  • Firing of a top level executive
  • Investigation into an accident that occurred recently
  • Prepare for negotiation with a certain vendor or client
  • Decide percentage of dividend to give this year
  • Complaints received from clients
  • Complaints received from staffs
  • Potential threat from breakdown in system

Once the agendas are clear, the participants can be mentally prepared. 

List of invitees
Another paradoxical factor to make group discussions effective is the selection of the invitees. Of course, all concerned with the agenda should call in. However, other aspects of the list of attendants must be considered. Is there anyone in the list whom we do not actually want to invite because he has a history of creating negative outcomes from discussions? Do we need some people with certain skills, or experience to join the discussion in order to conclude, even though they are not needed to attend? 

Expectation from attendants
Participation is a minimum standard for a good group discussion. Aggressive and obnoxious behavior during the session must be forbidden. Ulterior motive either to delay solution or to come to a highly biased conclusion must be spotted and penalized. 

Ground rules
Every group must set their own rules. However, some standard and universal rules are as follows:

1. To speak one must raise hands

2. Every discussion will have a meeting chair whose role will be to facilitate the session

3. There will be no sub-group discussion (side talk) unless specified by the meeting chair

4. We all agree to disagree politely without losing temper or even using harsh tones

During the discussion
The meeting chair should make the group follow the agenda and engage the attendants to share their views when needed. The typical flow of the discussion is a succession of convergence and divergence.  Having said that at the end a solid conclusion must be reached. The conclusion can be:

  • A decision
  • An action plan
  • Commitment to meet on another date to come to a conclusion

With these all processes, the group discussion must have achieved four objectives stated at the beginning: having conclusion, correct problem identification, solution, and commitment from all in the group. 

Authors: Mohan Ojha & Manohar Man Shrestha