We’ve all been in meetings where the discussion goes around in circles, the same issues are raised over and over again. If someone proposes a solution, it is attacked and no positive action is taken. Sooner or later, the meeting ends, but the issues are still unresolved.

As a facilitator, I recommend three steps to break this vicious cycle.

    1. Get agreement that this is a problem we need to solve now. Too often an issue is brought up continuously by one or two people who are passionate about it, but who fail to get consensus from others about the timeliness or importance of their cause. The leader or other group members need to get tough about what items are put on the table. Everyone should understand why the issue is important and the reasons for discussing it now. Without this filter, the group is condemned to wasting time in another “here we go again” discussion.
    2. Designate one person as the “owner” of the issue. This person is responsible for collecting the relevant information concerning the issue and presenting it in an orderly manner in the meeting. The “owner” should care about the issue, but not be prematurely committed to any particular solution. If no one wants to assume this responsibility, then any discussions about the issue are guaranteed to go nowhere.
    3. Define a process for reaching and implementing a decision. “Process” means how to proceed toward a decision. An effective process includes these steps:                                                                          a. Define the scope of issue. (What exactly are we talking about?)
      b. Collect relevant information.
      c. Establish criteria for making the final decision.
      d. Generate options. (Do not prematurely commit to one solution.)
      e. Evaluate the options in the light of the previously established criteria.
      f. Decide.
      g. Implement.
      h. Monitor results and, if necessary, modify the original decision.

Rarely can a good decision be reached in a single discussion. But if the participants are convinced of the importance of the issue, understand where they are in the process, then “spinning wheels” will be replaced by forward momentum. If the designated leader does a good job managing the process, meeting time dedicated to the issue will be well spent.