How would you like to confidently lead a group of diverse people to make a rapid collective decision anytime and anywhere? Or guide someone else in doing it? Of course you would. Who wouldn't? After learning to use the method in this article, you'll be able to say with confidence “If its possible for this group to reach a collective decision, I can help them do it.”

Consider a recent case. In preparing to facilitate an annual board retreat, I learned that the board president had one major desired outcome: to make decisions on four complex issues facing the organization. He also had one important condition — he wanted consensus decisions from the 25 board members attending the meeting. Even though these were his goals, he had doubts because he kept asking me if I really thought they could accomplish this! I kept saying “Sure you can.” And so can you.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

The secret is to use a simple and powerful tool called ORID, developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs to help diverse people work together productively. To get started, first set the context so that people can support you.

In my case, I asked the board president to open by stating the purpose of the meeting as a decision-making meeting and asking everyone if, given a fair process, they would be willing to put their best effort into reaching decisions that they could whole-heartedly support. Everyone said “yes.”

Then he introduced me and said that I would ensure fair process. I asked the group to agree to a few ground rules for the meeting, including taking responsibility for their own communication, making sure that their own voice is heard, and truly considering the views of others. People also agreed to these rules, so the context was now set.

Then, I applied the trusty ORID process four times, once to each topic. Result: The group made six unanimous decisions about how to move forward on the four sticky issues.

Climbing the Ladder

ORID's power comes from exposing and applying the human “inference ladder” of reasoning. That's the conceptual ladder that your reasoning process “climbs,” usually subconsciously and instantaneously, between the time your senses receive any kind of stimulus and the time you act on that stimulus. Here are four of the ladder rungs:

  • Selective Perception: Every person filters some data out and lets other data in.
  • Emotional Reaction: We each have immediate positive or negative emotional reactions to almost all stimuli.
  • Sense-Making: Everyone assigns meaning to data based on his or her unique filters (beliefs, drives, and experiences).
  • Action: We take actions based on our own inferences about data.

Here's an example:

  • A loud alarm rings! (selective perception)
  • “Ugh…” (emotional reaction)
  • “It's time to get out of bed.” (sense-making)
  • “Stumble to the bathroom. (action)

Reaching Consensus

Decision-making groups get bogged down when their members climb the first three rungs silently, subconsciously, and individually. Most people in decision-making groups speak to each other only about the last rung — individual preferences for the action. I call this jumping to the “We should” statements.

However, each member may have reached his or her preference for the group action based on very different stimuli, different emotional reactions, and different individual interpretations.

The ORID technique ensures that the group visits each rung of the ladder together. Here is how it works.

After the group shares a common experience (informational presentation, document, etc.), lead them through the following five steps:

  1. O (for Objective) — Ask the members what they recall seeing or hearing, and list their answers on a flip chart. Caution: Keep people focused on what they observed with their senses. Disallow interpretations and opinions at this stage.
  2. R+ (for Reflective positive) — Ask members what they had positive reactions to, and list their responses.
  3. R (for Reflective negative) — Ask members what they had negative reactions to, and list their responses. What will be positive for some may be negative for others. That's OK and exactly why you are doing this.
  4. I (for Interpretive) — Ask members what sense they make of the data and record their responses. Hint: It's easier to assign meaning by thinking about what headline a reporter might write about this data.
  5. D (for Decisional) — Ask the members what decisions they can now make as a group. Help them work individual proposals into consensus decisions.

More About Magic

If you want to find out more about ORID, please go to ica-associates.ca/Resources/AFC.cfm.


Christopher M. Avery, PhD, a nationally recognized teamwork expert, and speaker, and the author of “Teamwork Is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility” (Berrett-Koehler, 2000), has written hundreds of articles for TeamWisdom Tips, a digital tip sheet (www.partnerwerks.com).