Create a Shared Understanding Before Making Decisions Picture-Forming as a Group Practice

3 views of a diamond: top, side and 3-dimensional

On your board, committee or team, you need to make many different kinds of decisions. Sometimes you have a challenge that you need to address. Sometimes you have a project that you need to plan or a task that you need to complete.

Although it is tempting to move right to brainstorming and then decisions, you can improve the quality of your process by taking time to create a shared understanding of all of the things that should be taken into consideration.

Dynamic Governance (aka Sociocracy) calls the process of creating a shared understanding picture forming.

When an individual looks at something from a single perspective, they can miss other dimensions or facets. For a visual metaphor, think of a multi-faceted jewel. When you look at it from one angle it looks like a circle. When you look from another angle it looks like a triangle and trapezoid stuck together. But when you pick it up and and feel its weight and examine it from different angles, its complexity comes into awareness and you see it with new eyes.

When people come together to make a decision, they often have only a partial understanding of the issues at hand. Many conflicts start because one person "sees a circle" and assumes everyone else sees the same thing, and another person "sees a triangle/trapezoid" and assumes that is the shared understanding.

A group can use the circle process to look at the dimensions of a situation or challenge in order to form a common picture that can be used to propose ideas for policy or projects. As with all Dynamic Governance circle processes, all of the members need to consent to the finally list before moving to talking about proposals.

Here are some examples of prompts or guiding questions for a picture forming round.

  • What questions do we need to answer to make a good and complete policy?
  • What do we need to consider about "______" before we start proposing ideas?
  • Who is being impacted by this situation and what are their needs and concerns?

For more on inclusive decision-making, read about Shared Leadership with Circles.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

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