It’s not fair! Who made that decision? Nobody asked me! What!
One of the leading reasons for congregational conflict is lack of fair process. The way decisions are made, even if decision-makers have good intentions, can lead to mistrust and divisive conflict.
During the training we talked about fair process as part of the Restorative Framework. The basic principle was stated by Kim and Mauborgne in 1997 the Harvard Business Review. Kim and Mauborgne wrote, “individuals are most likely to trust and cooperate freely with systems – whether they themselves win or lose by those systems- when fair process is observed.”
In other words,people can live with any outcome, if the decision-making process feels “fair.”
The three elements that make up Fair Process are:
- Expectation Clarity
What’s the conversation you need to have? Who needs to be part of the conversation?
- People affected?
- Decision makers?
- Others with important insights?
What questions are you going to ask?
What process are you going to use to have the conversation(s)?
Setting up for success:
a) Prior to the engagement conversations
- Is everyone aware of the topic up for discussion? Be clear about what you talking about and be clear about what you’re NOT talking about
- Does the issue warrant the investment of time and energy?
- Does NOT using Fair Process run the risk of congregational conflict?
- Is there information participants need to have prior to the conversations? For example, if you want to have a decision-making process about whether or not to spend money to pave the church parking lot, what information do people need to have an informed conversation?
- Is everyone aware of who will make the final decision?
b) Ensuring good conversations:
- Train table group facilitators. Make sure table group facilitators understand their role is to keep the conversation moving by asking the questions. Facilitators are not appointed to push their own agendas.
- Use the restorative questions to structure the conversation.
- Let participants know the questions ahead of time so they can think about them
- Sit in circles
- Use a talking piece to allow everyone a chance to speak, to prevent interruptions and ensure you get through the questions
- Share and discuss ideas: allow for debate and differing ideas
- Write down suggestions
- Submit ideas to decision makers
Decision makers consider what they have heard during the engagement period. Is more discussion needed?
Note: There’s no point in asking people to be part of a decision-making process if you are not going to take their concerns, needs and ideas into consideration. People will feel the process is unfair if they have given time and energy to be part of a process that turns out to be a meaningless waste of time. Lack of real engagement leads to mistrust.
- Once a decision has been made provide clear reasons for the decision.
- Ensure you let people know in a timely fashion
- Consider how you are going to deliver the information:
- Everyone together? Teams? Individually?
- By letter? At another meeting?
Note: If there are reasons for the decision that cannot be given due to confidentiality, ask people to respect the situation and not engage in gossip and speculation.
- Expectation Clarity:
- Make sure everyone understands what’s expected of them given the decision
- Clarify what’s changed
- Consider who will be affected and in what ways, e.g. leadership, staff, congregational members, others
- Are supports in place for any changes resulting from the decision? Are those affected aware of the supports?
Post Decision Discontent
- Is the impact of the decision leading to conflict?
- How can you respond to the conflict before harm develops?