Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

What Should a Leader Do When –

L33 – Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

1 The positioning (physical location) of Members can have a significant influence on encouraging or discouraging Members to talk to each other.

2 The following points assume a conference situation which has Group Members on at least three sides of a square, with the Conference Leader on the fourth side. A curved shaped would prove better*, but most Conference- Room furniture only allows a straight side so that, usually, at least three or four people sit side by side.

Communication Between Leaders and Participants

3 Leaders will more readily talk with, have an awareness of, and receive communications from, people in front of them – as compared with people to the side of them. Thus if they want to pay particular attention to one or more Members they have more chance if they place them in front of them rather than sit the Members at the side.

4 A quieter member who sits in front of them will usually get more of their attention.

5 If Leaders want to quieten some Members they can put them on either side of them — called the blind spot. The “blind spot” for Conference Leaders lies on either side of their right or left. This “blind spot” increases if Leaders move their chair and/or themselves towards the Group’s centre i.e. towards Participants opposite them. At that stage a Member in the blind spot will sit almost behind a Leader.

6 Thus, the closer Leaders put the person to them, the greater the oppor— tunity of decreasing their attention to this person.

7 If Leaders have a tendency to look more towards their left, then the position on their right constitutes a greater blind spot then the position on their left; and vicersa-versa.

Communication between Two Participants

8 Leaders who wish to decrease communication between two Participants (e.g. those who have a tendency to argue with each other or start side conversations) should put them on the same side of an open-square arrangement but not next to each other. That arrangement means they have less chance of seeing each other and therefore will talk less to each other.

9 Conversely, if Leaders wish to encourage two Participants to talk to each other, they should sit them so they face each other.

* The ideal physical arrangement for Conferences has seating so that all Members can see the face of all other Members. Straight sides mean that some people cannot see each other without moving forward.

Exercise – Activities to Improve a Group’s Effectiveness.


Activities to Improve a Group’s Effectiveness



1 Groups aim to achieve different objectives during group discussions.

2 Some people believe that a group will have a better chance of achieving its objectives if one or more people focus on the way the group goes about trying to achieve its objectives. Some people call that aspect – the process.

3 Different people use different terms to label anyone who tries to help a group function better. The terms include – Leader, Facilitator, and Chairperson.

4 Probably most people will accept that the terms Facilitator and Conference Leader describe people who try to achieve particular classes of objectives (e.g. the method of discussion). Attempts to achieve these classes of objectives and their achievement can help (or hinder) a group’s ability to achieve the group’s objective.

5 But what objectives should people who have these roles (and other ordinary group members) try to achieve? Should Leaders, Facilitators, and Chairpersons all try to do the same things? Or does leading, facilitating, and chairing involve two or three different groups of activities.

6 Further, to what extent should other members of a group carry out the same or similar activities as a Leader, Facilitator, or Chairperson?


Two Exercises

7 The following two Exercises set out a procedure to follow which will help people consider (a) who should try to achieve which objectives and (b) what actions the different people should take in relation to specific situations which occur during group discussions.

8 These exercises ignore the idea of a Chairperson because a variety of books cover the job of conducting a formal meeting.










Exercise A - Some Possible Objectives for Facilitators, Leaders, and other Group Members

9 The following table lists some Objectives in the left-hand column. Record whether one or more of the three classes of people(Facilitators, Leaders, Other Group Members) should (a) Try to achieve themselves (D for Do), (b) Encourage Others to do so (EO), (c) Not Do (ND) , or (d) Not Encourage others to Do (NEO)

10 You may wish to use a symbol plus a question mark.

11 Example. “?D” under Leader would mean you think a Leader should try to achieve the objective but you have some doubts.

12 In some cases you may believe that the person identified should only try to achieve (or not achieve) the objective under certain circumstances. If so, put a small letter (e.g. “a”) beside your answer and write the circumstances as a footnote on a separate sheet.

13 The information you want to put into some cells may not fit. You may wish to identify the cell by the column symbols (F, L, M) and the number of the objective and record your answer on a different sheet.


Who should try to achieve the
Possible Objective



Other Group
Members (M)

14 Explain what one or more people have said.
15 Keep the group contributing on one topic at a time.
16 Point out that one or more members have contributed on a topic different from the official topic.
17 Point out need to identify/decide official topic.


Who should try to achieve the
Possible Objective



Other Group
Members (M)

18 Help group decide official topic.
19 Ask people to think about what their behaviour aims to achieve.
20 Suggest possible interpretations of one or more person’s behaviour.
21 Suggest one or more procedures/processes one or more people should adopt if they want to achieve one or more Objectives.
22 Explain to people why they and/or others might feel the way they do.
23 Suggest to people how they might feel about one or more particular pieces of behaviour.
24 Point out the amount of time which has passed.
25 Suggest that one or more people(a) should contribute
(b) should NOT contribute.
26 Take charge of the procedure of the group.



Actions By -

Other Group
Members (M)
30 Write the major points which come from the Group’s discussion  -(a) on a board which all Members can see
(b) on a page to which only you can refer.
Exercise B – A Diagram which aims to help decide what Action different People should take (f any) if They observe some Specific Behaviour 27 Consider the behaviours listed in the left-hand column and write what Facilitators, Leaders, or other Members should do in the relevant columns. If you believe they should do nothing then record “Nil”.28 In some cases you will believe the person identified should only try to do what you record under certain circumstances. If so, include the circumstances.29 The information you want to put into some cells may not fit. You may wish to identify the cell by the column symbol (F, L, M) and the number of the Behaviour and record your answer on a different sheet.


Actions By -

Other Group
Members (M)
31 Person A attacks an idea that Person B puts forward. __
32 Person C disagrees with what Person D put forward.


Actions By -



Other Group
Members (M)

33 Person E tends to oppose most of the ideas of others.
34 Person F asks you[1]what you think about –(a) A topic of the Discussion.
     (b) The Behaviour of an individual Member.(c) The actions/behaviour of a small number of GroupMembers
(d) The behaviour of the whole Group.
35 Person G asks you what interpretation you put on the behaviour of one or more people.
36 Person I
(a) tells a funny story
     (b) tells a second funny story within  five minutes of theprevious funny story.
37 Person J says very little.




Actions By -



Other Group
Members (M)

38 Person K (a) dominates the group’s discussion,
(b) bulldozes many decisions
39 It appears that some people do not understand what other people say(a) on a most important topic.
(b) on a medium-important topic.
(c) on an unimportant topic.
40 One person contributed an idea on a topic different to the last Contributor.
41 The last ten or so contributions include at least five different topics.
42 Person L tends to suggest procedures with which L does not obey in his/her own behaviour.
43 Person M denies that they feel upset yet you feel that they rate as quite upset.
44. Two or more people speak at once.
45 Person M opposes an idea which all other Members favour.


Actions By -



Other Group
Members (M)

46 Person N appears often not to listen to the contributions of other Members.
47 Person “O” complains about what the other Members do but does not suggest doing anything different.
48 Person P & Q often engage in private discussions and do not appear to attend to the contributions of Other Members during their private discussions.
49 Person R attacks the ideas of the Leader and/or the Facilitator.
50 Person S & T regularly do NOT answer questions put to them by other Members.
51 The Members have produced a large number of ideas on the discussion topic.
52 The Group has difficulty achieving agreement.
53 Persons U & V disagree about the meaning of a term and the group probably will not achieve the Conference Objectives while no common agreement on the term exists.
54 The Group have decided to appoint Person W to record their ideas and W sits in the group and records ideas and
(a) several Group Members have asked W to read out what W has written
(b) Two Members have accused W of recording their ideas incorrectly.
55 The Facilitator/Leader gets into an argument with one Course Member.

[1] The term “you” in the list of behaviours refers to each of Facilitator, Leader, and Other Group Member. Thus Behaviour 34 has three parts. Person F asks (a) the Facilitator what do you think, (b) the Leader what do you think (c) a Group Member. Thus answer in terms - (a) As the Facilitator, I would
(b) As the Leader, I would (c) As a Group Member, I would

Gaining Group Acceptance


1 Many situations call for group acceptance of decisions, objectives, plans, etc. However Executives should make sure they have real acceptance – not just an agreement to their face and disagreement and disruption behind their back.

2 In general, research and experience suggest that a greater chance of true group acceptance exists if the group concerned participates in the decision. A conference provides a good opportunity to gain such group participation and to test, through group discussion, the degree of group acceptance.

Gaining Group Acceptance - A difficult, complex, but often essential, Task

3 The difficulty of obtaining Group acceptance will vary with the ideas held by the Group at the beginning of the conference. Members may have: (a) few or no ideas on the topic, (b) some ideas but not strongly held or (c) very definite ideas. In the latter case, if the ideas oppose the ones which the Leader desires them to hold, the Leader’s task will prove difficult.

4 Gaining the Group’s acceptance provides a most complex task. These notes cannot hope to do more than introduce the subject and give a few general approaches.

5 No matter how difficult the task, many Executives quite often must try to change the attitudes and gain Group acceptance during a conference. Consideration of this problem should increase the chances of overcoming it.

6 The following approaches should help Leaders gain group acceptance; however they will not prove successful on all occasions.

Planning and the different Stages of a Conference

7 A Conference which aims to achieve group acceptance requires careful planning. If Planners distinguish certain stages of the conference process it should help their planning.

8 First, the introductory stage occurs. The discussion aims to define the subject and/or set the problem and the limits of discussion. At this stage, usually, Leaders should make it clear to the Group the extent to which they will make any decisions.

9 Where the objective involves acceptance of one or more decisions, one approach involves informing the Group that they will make the decision(s). This information sets the stage for the greatest possible participation. However, such an approach will sometimes prove impossible. Further, Leaders should not make such a statement unless true.

10 The second stage involves general discussion where the Members gather facts and evaluate them.Here a group-centred discussion will tend to prove best whereas the previous stage must use mainly a leader- centred approach.

11 The third stage involves acceptance of the ideas discussed in the previous stage. Leaders should test carefully Group acceptance. A mainly leader-centred discussion will prove most appropriate.

12 Leaders should check acceptance indirectly – by asking appropriate questions and seeking opinions of individuals. They can check directly by asking whether anyone in the Group disagrees. However – will Participants answer honestly?

13 A conference might need to repeat the second and third stages several times. It will usually move in stages by getting agreement on smaller matters (sub objectives) which will advance it to agreement on the overall (= end) objective.

14 Once a group achieves the overall objective, Leaders have reached the stage of summing up. They should summarise to help reinforce acceptance and again check on the Group’s acceptance.

15 Probably, Conference Members will not become aware of separate stages in a conference, since the movement from one to another does not usually occur in a definite or obvious fashion. However, for Leaders planning a conference, the concept of a conference passing through various stages should assist them to understand conferences better and learn how to achieve group acceptance.

16 While this overall viewpoint gives some assistance, other ideas exist which will assist in the more-detailed operation of conferences. The following paragraphs briefly discuss a few.

The Power of Participation

17 Members who contribute to the general discussion which helps decide the end result will probably feel a sense of ownership in the final decision. Thus they will tend to accept it and carry it out more readily.

The Influence of the Group

18 A group will often prove quite powerful in swaying the opinions of one or two dissenting Members. Most people like others to accept them. Thus approval of others rates as important. Wise Leaders will let other Group Members convince Dissenters and show such people that they have the wrong approach –  rather than point it out themselves. Most Participants find it easier to maintain opposition to a Leader’s ideas than ideas which all or most other Participants support.

The Leader’s Influence

19 Provided Leaders introduce them carefully, new facts will help to influence the discussions. However this approach will not always prove successful. Leaders should take care that they give facts and not just their opinion – especially when Participants begin to realise they represent opinions.

20 Leaders should watch the problem of surface acceptance. Apparent agreement may come about simply because Leaders present an idea; outside the conference the Group may discard it.

21 Leaders should handle the conference so that the Participants do not feel inferior. They should aim to have the Group feel the Leader has a place within the Group. The terms “we” and “ours” will probably prove more acceptable than “I” and “mine”.

Leaders should aim for real and (preferably) Unforced Participation

22 Leaders should take care not to put dissenting Members into a position where they take a stand on a particular topic. Once they take a stand it will often prove difficult for them to withdraw or change without “losing face”.

23 Group acceptance has a higher probability of occurring where real participation by all Members exists – not just by the most vocal or aggressive.

Move from Areas of Acceptance to Areas of Non-Acceptance

24 Leaders will usually find they can achieve more acceptance if they move from areas of acceptance towards those where disagreement exists.

Other Points

25 Usually – gaining group acceptance will become more difficult as the similarity of Participants decreases. Where people have varying background they will perceive things in a different way. Points and ideas which prove acceptable to some will make no impression on others.

26 The more time available, the greater the likelihood of success. In many situations Leaders will find they cannot afford to hurry acceptance.

27 Leaders should give assistance and the greatest opportunity to contribute to those with the most appropriate ideas. This approach will give those who favour a Leader’s objective a chance to contribute on the Leader’s behalf. They may convince other Participants without obvious efforts by the Leader. However Leaders should temper this approach with the need to give participation to all. 


28 In general, all the techniques of Conference Leading will aid in achieving group acceptance. Skilful Leaders will know how best to use questions which come from the Group, how to phrase questions and statements by themselves and so on. Probably gaining Group acceptance in a skilful manner provides the most difficult test of successful Conference Leading.

Discussion Techniques – using the Group’s Questions and Statements and Making Statements – need diagram


1 Any discussion consists of many different contributions. These contributions often include many different points. The path a discussion takes will depend upon the points that gain most attention from Conference Members. Conference Leaders can influence the path selected by:

     (a) Whether they contribute

     (b) How they contribute.

2 If Conference Leaders do not contribute they allow other Conference Members to decide what they will select as important from the contributions of others and/or whether they will try to answer any questions put forward

3 Leaders who contribute can play a major role in directing the Conference by directing the flow of traffic e.g. which contributions will they emphasise; which questions will they encourage the Group to answer.

Contributions from Conference Participants

4 Conference Participants often ask questions of a Leader. Leaders have various approaches to dealing with questions. They can combine these approaches in different ways to give an even larger number of possible approaches.

5 A Leader can use any of the following four broad approaches –

     (a) Ignore the Question and make no further comment

     (b) Ignore the Question and contribute on a different point

     (c) Defer the Question

     (d) Deal with it.

6 However Participants will sometimes not allow Leaders to use the method they desire. They will: (a) deal with the question instead of ignoring it, (b) refuse to defer it by making further contributions, or (c) try to vary the way the Leader wishes to deal with a particular question.

7 Leaders who wish to deal with a question can –

     (a) leave the question as stated

     (b) alter it in some way; e.g. rephrase it, emphasise one or more parts, exclude a part, add something.

8 In dealing with a question (altered or not) they can –

     (a) give an answer

     (b) call for answers from –

           (i) one or more specific individuals

          (ii) all Participants without identifying anyone in particular.

9 They can also vary the sequence of whichever approaches they use. They can defer their answer until they have heard ideas from one or more Participants or they feel all Participants have contributed who want to contribute.

10 The flow diagram on the next page shows the various approaches and their combinations.

11 As with most techniques in Conference Leading, none rate as necessarily good or bad. The technique which will help most will depend on such factors as – (a) the stage a discussion has reached, (b) the speed with which the Leader wishes to move ahead and (c) the type of conference conducted. Above all it should depend on which approach the Leader believes will contribute most to achieving particular Conference Objectives.*

12 Statements, including ideas and suggestions from the Group, rate as similar to questions. Leaders can deal with a comment in similar ways to those listed above for dealing with questions. However, instead of answering a question, they can comment on a statement.

The Subject Matter of Questions and Statements

13 Leaders should classify the questions and statements in a discussion according to the closeness of the subject matter to the official topic. The relationship will rate as:

     (a) direct;

     (b) close;

     (c) slight;

     (d) nil.

14 A consideration of contributions (including questions) in this light will assist Leaders to guide the discussion by selecting and emphasising those contributions which will contribute most to the conference objective. *

* In practice, Conference Leaders will select and rephase those approaches which will most contribute to achieving the sub-objective they have for the conference at that time. Sometimes they make mistakes: the approach selected does not contribute to the discussion (sub) objective and/or the discussion (sub) objective will not contribute to achieving the overall conference objectives.

    15 Examples. A conference had only a short time until it reaches a planned finishing time. Thus the Leader ignored a question which had only slight relevance to the topic. In a different conference, the Leader also added the comment that the question rated as off-the-subject. In a development conference a slightly off—the-topic contribution brought no action by the Leader

16 This classification of contributions applies to both contributions by the Conferees and by a Leader. Hopefully a Leader’s contributions will usually rate as relevant. However when Leaders realise they have become involved in an argument, they should consider their position. They should evaluate their own comments in the light of the conference objective.

Statements by the Leader

17 Statements by a Leader will prove useful in the opening of a conference and as a summary at the end of a major section of the conference and/or the conference as a whole. During discussions, Leaders should usually avoid making statements. However where Leaders believe the Group should hear certain ideas and they believe they cannotdraw them out of the Group, they should make appropriate statements.

Should a Leader use Questions or Statements?

18 Leaders should prefer questions to statements because questions encourage Conferees to think for themselves. Statements from Leaders often encourage a non-thinking attitude. However statements will prove useful to rule out irrelevant contributions (e.g. “I believe your comment lies outside the topic of our current discussion”).

19 Sometimes statements by Leaders will prove dangerous. Sometimes a Leader expresses a personal opinion and becomes involved in an argument with the Group or part of the Group. Leaders risk losing control of the Group when this situation occurs

20 In training conferences, Leaders will more often make statements because they want Trainees to consider certain ideas.

21 Where Leaders do not make statements in the form of summaries some Groups will feel that they have discussed a subject but determined nothing concrete.

Should Sub-Committees present a unanimous face?

A Sub Committee at work.

1 A seven-person Committee spent many hours on a problem. They laboured to agree on the solution. After a while, Alan put forward an idea. Eventually five of the Committee agreed to a modified version of his idea.

2 However Charlie and Dorothy did not agree. Thus, the Committee spent more time discussing the problem.

3 Eventually Dorothy said: “We cannot go on discussing this matter forever. I have some doubts about the decision but, having listened to all your views, I do not feel sufficiently strongly to oppose the decision.

4 Thus six people agreed.  However, Charlie maintained his strong opposition.

5 Frank (the Chairman of the Sub-Committee) said – “I doubt if the Committee can come to a unanimous agreement no matter how much time we spend.”

6 Charlie agreed with this viewpoint.

7 Bertha then said – “Charlie, will you agree so we can present a unanimous recommendation to the General Committee?”

8 Charlie enjoyed working with the group and wanted to continue to have good relationships with its Members. Further, he hoped that if he agreed, some of the Committee might agree to support a point he wanted to put forward.

9 In addition he did not want to offend the Chairman of the Sub-Committee.

10 Thus, after some further discussion, he allowed the rest of the group to persuade him to present a united front to the General Committee.

11 The Sub-Committee reported to the General Committee. The Chairman announced the Group’s recommendation and said – “We make this recommendation unanimously.”

Some Implications

12 Readers should consider how often larger groups ask a smaller group to recommend on an issue and the smaller group report a unanimous decision. If it occurs – does that approach help, hinder, or prove of little importance to the overall group to which the smaller group belongs?

How often does a Group only appear Unanimous?

13 The very nature of the approach described above tends to hide whether real unanimity exists. Some Members of the larger group will not worry about the situation. If they have little or no interest in the matter on which the Sub-Group has worked, they will not care. If they want to maintain a good relationship with one or more of the Sub Group, they will not even ask, or want to consider, if all the Sub Group really agreed.

14 Some or all Members of the Sub-Group will believe that they should not disclose the process to their overall (larger) group. If a Member of the larger Group hints at a lack of unanimity or asks whether all Sub-Group Members agreed, the Sub-Group Members will tend to deny the possibility.

15 Further, some Members of the larger (overall) Group will frown on anyone who challenges the system or states disagreement with the Sub Group’s recommendation. Others call that person disloyal.

16 One might ask disloyal to whom – the (larger) overall Group, the small Group, or the person?

17 For all these reasons, people tend to hide the times when unanimous decisions do not exist. Therefore, it proves difficult to know how often it occurs.

What Effect does the Process have?

18 Readers should ask whether they accept the principle – the more accurate information people have, the better decisions they will make. If so, should the larger group make its decisions on inaccurate information; i.e. should they know that some Members of the Sub-Group do not agree with the recommendation.

19 The very fact of a unanimous Sub-Group tends to make it more difficult for others to oppose the recommendation of the Sub- Committee. If two or three Members of the larger Group do not feel happy with the recommendation of the Sub-Group, will they tend to do nothing if they face a unanimous Sub-Group? If they knew that one or two people have doubts or even opposed the recommendation would they do more? Would the fact that they voice their concern encourage others to examine the recommendation in more detail and/or voice some of their concerns?

20 Work done by Psychologists (e.g. Asche) suggests that people experience quite a lot of pressure to conform to the views of the group.

21 Asche asked a group of (about) twelve people to select the longer of two lines. Although similar in length, Line A measured, and looked, longer than Line B. He asked each individual to select the longer line. By arrangement, each of the first eleven people chose Line B. The experiment aimed to measure the effect on the last person asked (the subject of the experiment). About seven out of every ten subjects will agree with the group in this situation. The experiment demonstrated the effect of group conformity.

22 However Asche found that, if just one other person chose the longer line before asking the last person (the subject) the number of seven subjects out of every ten who conformed to the group pressure decreased to three subjects out of every ten.

23 Probably these findings also apply in the situation described in the introduction. Thus, the pressure of group conformity encourages people to agree with the findings of the Sub-Group even if they disagree with them.

24 The same group conformity pressure would operate within the discussions of the Sub-Committee and affect some of the Sub- Committee Members.

25 Another pressure exists in some groups. People say that the larger Group should support the views of the Sub-Group’. This statement seems to apply irrespective of whether the larger Group agrees with the findings of the Sub-Group.*

26 However another view states: If we simply rubber-stamp a Sub Group’s viewpoint we should delegate the position authority to the Sub Group to make the decision.

27 Sometimes the larger group agrees with the Sub-Group so that in turn, it can report to an even larger group that unanimity exists.

     28 Examples  A Board of Directors or a Council of a nonprofit-making organisation offers a unanimous front to the larger group which it represents (share holders of the Public and/or the group) over which it aims to maintain control (e.g. Staff, Students, Clients, Users of the Institution)

29 Thus this whole approach tends to reduce the possibility that people with minority views will speak up and put them before the group. Sometimes these different viewpoints would have helped the larger group to make better decisions.

Implications for Actions

30 What should people do if they believe that the above situation occurs and they rate it as unhelpful to the wise operation of the Organisation within which it occurs? The following list shows some recommendations

Consider the System - How it Operates and How it should Operate.

31 Encourage other people to consider whether the system operates as described above.

32 Encourage discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches to decision making.

33 Gain acceptance from the Sub-Group and/or the total group that they do not wish to let their decision-making operate in that particular way.

Consider What Individuals Should Do.

34 Speak firmly when you have a minority view.

35 Encourage others to speak up and encourage others to listen to the views of the minority.

Consider the Sub-Group’s Activities and How to appoint Sub-Group Members.

36 Report a Sub-Group’s findings in more detail and in a way that exposes differences of opinion within the Sub-Group about the Sub-Group’s recommendation – particularly that one or more Members do not support, or have doubts about, the recommendation.

37 Consider carefully the people whom the Group intends to appoint to a Sub-Group and ensure that it includes people who will speak up and state a minority view – even if somewhat unpopular.

Consider what Position Authority to delegate to a Sub-Group.

38 Decide when delegating work to a Sub-Group whether the decision rates as so important that the Sub-Group must make a recommendation to the larger Group (compared with the Sub-Group making the decision)

39 Consider the possibility that the decision rates as unimportant and that the Sub-Group should have the position authority to make the decision (not just a recommendation)


40 The above notes suggest that many Organisations operate a system that encourages Sub-Groups to report a unanimous opinion when it does not exist. In turn, this system puts pressure on the larger group to accept the Sub-Group’s recommendations when the larger group should examine more closely the Sub-Group’s ideas.

41 A failure to distinguish between recommendations and decisions and their role in wise decision making also contributes to poor decision making.

42 These notes suggest ideas for reducing the problems discussed – by altering some of the systems under which Organisations operate.


* A similar approach states: “We must support the Manager or the managing group”.

Help decide the Usefulness of “the path” the Group has decided to travel or have actually travelled in some way.

What Should Members Do To –

M33 – Help decide the of “the path” the has decided to travel or  have actually travelled in some way.

1 Sometimes a Group will try to achieve a particular sub— (travel down one particular path) to achieve an objective.

2 Sometimes at the start of the path or later, after having experienced the path, one or more Members will feel that they have chosen the wrong path (sub-objective).

3 The question then arises – “What can one Member do to encourage other Members to examine the correctness of the path and/or consider choosing a new path (sub-objective)?”

Some Questions that aim to encourage Members to check the correctness of their current Path.

An important approach to choosing a correct path involves using the question – “What do we hope toachieve by trying to go down this path(achieve this particular objective)?”

5 An attempt to answer this question encourages Members to consider what they will find at the end of the path i.e. what will achieving the current sub—objective help them to achieve.

6 Once Users of the first question (paragraph 4 above) receive an answer they can follow up the question by saying: “And just what help does achieving that objective give to achieving the Conference Objective?” Alternatively they can ask – “Assume we “travel” to the end of our current path how does that help us to choose our next path?”

7 Sometimes the answer obtained will show such Enquirers that they have not really identified a specific problem. They may have started out with a vague feeling of “wrongness” about the path and the answer to their question convinces them of the usefulness of the path.

8 Sometimes the answers will convince them of the unsuitability of the path. In this situation sometimes they will convince others that they should move to a different path. Sometimes they will fail to achieve this objective and continue down the path with the rest of the Group –  unless they wish to annoy others and make themselves unpopular.

After one Failure when should Members try again.

9 When Members fail to convince others of the correctness of the idea that they have chosen the wrong path, they need to watch for just when should they put the question next. They should not push the point too frequently and at too short an interval. If they do they may get other Members to a stage where they will not support the people who want to change paths even though they might finally believe in their ideas. They act stubbornly and refuse to budge. Thus they have the problem of the appropriate timing to allow more people to perceive the situation as they do and they need to put it in a way which encourages people to change. They must allow Members to save face; rather than rubbing their noses in the dirt with some phrase such as “1 told you fifteen minutes ago we would waste our time if we continued.”

Methods for a Second Try.

10 Perhaps they might use some such phrase as : “M Chairman, I wonder if it would prove useful to the Group if they could vote again on whether they believe they should continue to go down this path (try to achieve this sub- objective)?

11 Perhaps they should ignore the path altogether and use some phrase such as: “I recommend that we change from this sub-objective and try a different approach. Madam Chair, could you ask who agrees with me?”

12 If the Member who feels the Group have chosen the wrong path also occupies the position of Official Leader, this person will need to make some more approaches than those suggested above. Again it will prove a nice point to decide just when to make firm suggestions to the Group that they might now care to change their minds about their procedure.

Help Participants distinguish between a Topic and an Objective

What Should a Leader Do To -

L87- Help Participants distinguish between a Topic and an Objective.


1 Sometimes a Group will find themselves discussing a particular topic. They should realise the weakness of this situation. They should really set themselves an objective other than – discuss Topic X.

 A Difference between a Topic and an Objective.

2 A Topic identifies an area of thought; an objective refers to a specific part of that area. Further, an objective identifies something that someone believes someone should try to achieve in the future.

     3 Example. A Group could identify the topic of football. However within that topic they could discuss many different objectives such as – make football more enjoyable, get players to improve their performance, obtain more spectators for football, have longer-lasting footballs, provide more-comfortable beer-drinking facilities for football fans, and so on.

4 When a Group has identified a topic, it tends to give itself the objective – “discuss the topic”. This objective represents a very broad and ill-defined one.

5 Suppose a Group has a contribution from three Members on a particular topic. At that stage, has it discussed the topic and therefore achieved its objective?

6 Consider the broadness/vagueness of the discuss-the-topic objective. When it exists, people can make contributions and have a discussion without really having any focal point towards which to aim.

7 However, if the Group adopt a more specific objective it will increase the probability of having a more useful discussion.

     8 Examples of such objectives:

     (a) List the advantages and disadvantages of ,,,,,,,,,

     (b) Identify and record the factors that would help a Manager make a decision on  …..

     (c) Record the stages through which an invoice will pass from its initial completion to final payment.

     (d) List the major elements Managers should consider in delegating an objective to a Subordinate.

12 Conference Members will increase the probability of having a useful Conference if they distinguish between a topic and an objective and seek to set themselves an objective other than just – Discuss the Topic.

Help the Group decide “where to draw the line”.

What Should a Leader Do To –

L84 – Help the Group decide “where to draw the line”


1 A number of discussions usually involve differences of opinions on “where to draw the line”.

     2 Examples. (a) The Group discusses major factors versus minor factors. Someone wants to know where to draw the line between a major and minor factor i.e. which factors rate as major and when does a factor become “minor”. (b) A Group discusses whether the Organisation gives sufficient emphasis to the problems of people. Thus the Group Members will disagree on where to draw the line between “sufficient” and “insufficient”.

3 In such situations, a Leader can try a number of approaches. In general it will prove difficult to define where to draw the line. Often someone has to make an arbitrary decision regarding the position of the “line”.

Approaches which a Leader and/or Participants can take regarding “drawing the line”.

4 The following sections discuss various possible approaches.

Stop trying to – Draw the Line

5 Sometimes a meeting will take a long time to draw a “line”. Because of this point, Leaders (and Participants) should think very carefully about whether to spend time on trying to draw the line at all. Probably this point applies particularly during the early stages of a discussion.

6 Leaders and Participants should ask themselves what effect would the drawing of the line have on whether we will achieve the Conference Objectives?

Defer trying to – Draw the Line

7 Leaders can encourage the Group to leave the problemof “drawing the line” and deal with it after they have more information about the whole topic.

     8 Example. I know you only want to list major objectives but why not list all objectives that anyone considers deserves the term major. When we have listed all the objectives, the Group can decide whether to discuss whether some of them deserve the term “minor”.

9 Sometimes deferring drawing the line means the group will find that no disagreement exists about the items listed/identified. Thus the Group does not have to make a decision about where “the line” lies.

10 Sometimes the “line” lies quite clearly below the list of items that the Group have suggested. Thus no discussion need occur provided the objective involves obtaining a list.
11 If the Group does want to draw a line, deferring the decision will give more information and Members will have a much greater understanding of the whole situation.

     12 Example. A Group which has listed items (irrespective of whether they rate as major or minor) has a good chance of getting more specific information. One person can say – “If item 9 rates as (say) minor, then item 6 and 8 would also fit into the same class”.

Identify Principles to help – Draw the Line

13 Somebody can help to formulate principles about where to draw “the line”with relation to the specific items. A list of items (already dis— cussed) should help to suggest principles.

Does it matter Where to –  Draw the Line?

14 A Group can think about the situation where Members say: “Does it really matter that we include one item in one class which other people would put outside the class?”

Does the Group have to agree on the “Line’s” position?

15 Alternatively a Group would agree to say – “The following shows our list and disagreement exists with respect to where to put various items.

16 The above approach will certainly avoid the problem of discussing whether an item goes in one class or another. In any case, this particular point probably rates as a relatively unimportant aspect of many discussions.

Require the Agreement of only a few People to Draw the Line

17 Another arbitrary approach exists with respect to drawing the line. The Group can simply decide that provided a given number of Members rate the item as “above the line”, they will use this approach to make the decision.

18 Such an approach does not need to define the figure as a majority figure.

     19 Example. A Group wants to list the factors that make up the personality of a good Manager. It could agree to include in its (initial) list any item where two of the Group accept it as belonging to the list.

Help the Group perceive more Information than just the simple recording of Ideas suggested by the Group.

What should a Leader do to -

L72 – Help the Group perceive more Information than just

 the simple recording of ideas suggested by the Group

1 In order for a Group to proceed toward its conference objectives, it usually needs to give some structure to the information contributed by its Members.

2 A structure consists of a number of parts where two or more parts have some relationship.

3 The task of finding relationships between various ideas put forward in the contributions of the Group will often devolve on Leaders.  However, this situation may not occur if they lead Participants who rate as particularly experienced and well educated in conferences and useful roles for Participants to take.

4 Leaders can help a Group perceive structure (relationships between contributions and/or ideas) by -

     (a) pointing it out to them

    (b) recording information on the Board in a structured way, and

     (c) encouraging the Group to look for relationships between (i) contributions in general and/or (ii) selected contributions.

5 Leaders will often record on the board the ideas that come from a Group discussion. Leaders can write them in various places and place similar elements together.

     6 Example. If the Group discuss a personnel problem a Leader could write a heading for the people involved (i.e. their names) and record information relevant to each person under the name of each person. The Leader could put up information that does not relate to particular people in a different part of the (black) board or chart pad.

7 The Leader might even subdivide the information about each person into (a) fact and opinion or
(b) points for and points against a particular person in relation to a situation.

     8 Another Example. In a discussion on the desirable structure for an organisation, the Group talks about the existing organisation and the- proposed organisation. A Leader could help them to concentrate on one or the other. However if ideas come forward on both, a helpful Leader would record them under appropriate headings.


Ensure the Group’s Support for a Procedure

What Should a Leader do to -

L71 – Ensure the Group’s Support for a Procedure.

Why check?

1 Leaders who do not check that they have the group’s support for a procedure can find the following situation occurs. Later in the conference, a Participant can complain and point out that the Leader did not check agreement to use a procedure. When this complaint occurs, it allows the Group to decide to retrace their footsteps. Often much intervening discussion will prove useless.

2 Thus such non-checking can encourage an inefficient conference. Many such errors might make a conference fail to achieve its objective.

Check what the Group wants to do

3 Inexperienced Leaders will often fail to check what the Group wants to do.

4 Leaders will often base a decision on procedure on -

     (a) what they believe the Group should do,

     (b) what they think the Group wants to do, or

     (c) what one or more people in the Group say that they and/or the Group want to do.

5 Leaders may misread the Group’s needs and/or give too much emphasis to what some of the Group say should happen.  If they do, they risk using a wrong and/or unacceptable procedure. *

6 Thus wise Leaders will always ask Participants to signify (e.g. by raising their hand) if they agree to use a particular procedure.

7 At the very least, they will ask who does not want to use the procedure. Then they should pause for a few seconds to give every Participant the chance to think about, and argue against, the use of a procedure.

8 While experienced Leaders sometimes will decide not to check what the Group wishes to do, they take a risk doing so.

* A Procedure may prove acceptable to the Group (and/or the Leader) but prove wrong in that it does not. help the group to achieve the conference or discussion objective. Similarly, a procedure may rate as unacceptable but right - although if no one tries it out, no one can prove its correctnes