Book review – Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making

frontcvrweb2The next book on my reading list was one in the field of group facilitation
It’s called ‘Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making’and is written by Sam Kaner and colleagues of Community at Work.

As the biggest part of my job is to make sure that teams work effectively together, I was looking for literature about how to guide teams in making group decisions.  Team commitment is an important aspect of agile software development, which can be strengthened by giving teams the room to make decisions as a group.  A team facilitator can guide and coach them where appropriate.

You’ve all been in meetings where the team can’t seem to agree on a solution to an issue. 
The team comes up with several proposals, but none of them is supported by all.

The book is built around a model called ‘the Diamond of Participatory Decision-Making‘. 
The diamond is a schematic presentation of the different stages over time through which a team has to move in order to develop a solution that is satisfactory to all.

Five different stages are described:

Business as usual

The team comes up with obvious solutions to the problem. They retain from taking risks or being ambitious.
A facilitator should pay attention to the quality and quantity of each person’s participation.  If not everyone supports the proposal, the facilitator can help the team to break out of the business as usual zone and into the Divergent zone.

Divergent zone

In contrary to the business as usual zone, the feeling is a lot different in the divergent zone. People can be playful, curious, nervous, …
The facilitator has to help the team to express their divergent points of view by using brainstorming or go-arounds.  He has to help each person to express their thoughts clearly by using mirroring or paraphrasing. Everyone should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Groan zone

Once the team has expressed all points of view, often conflicts come forward due to not understanding each other’s perspectives.  It feels uncomfortable and stressfull. People don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.  The task of a facilitator is not to prevent teams from entering the groan zone, but to support people in their effort to understand each others perspectives.  He has to assure the team that by going through this painful stage, the team will eventually be able solve the problem as a group.  The team can start on working on a shared framework of understanding which will lead them to the convergent zone.

Convergent zone

Now that everyone has a shared framework of understanding, discussions go smoother.  People feel that finally, they are going forward again. Everyone is enthousiastic and committed.  The facilitator should let the team use their renewed energy and get out of the way, but guard that every proposal is one that covers everyone’s interests.

Closure zone

Finally, a decision has to be made.  The facilitator has to guide the team in making this decision. It has to be clear to everyone what the decision embodies and how it is supported by all.  An agreement scale can help to poll the support to a decision.


The book goes into detail of each stage and hands out usefull techniques that can be used to guide the team.
A lot of these techniques are widely used and not new, but in combination with the diamond model, I believe they can be used more effectively.

Summary: a nice book that I would recommend to everyone who’s interested in group facilitation.
One small negative point for me is the page size, which I believe is close to A4.  Not really pocket size 🙂

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Published on AgileQ « Nick Oostvogels’s Weblog

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