Sunday, August 28, 2005

Process Matters

There is no denying it – I am a process person. For me, the process of making decisions is as important, if not MORE important, than any specific decision itself.

I’m one of those people at group meetings that others often characterize as a “stickler for the rules” or more concerned with the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. What most of such people don’t understand is that I’m not married to the rules themselves. The way I look at it, if a group has a rule or procedure that doesn’t work, change it. If the rules or procedures are the way the group wants them, then follow them. It’s a very straightforward approach.

From my observations, this endemic problem with following a group’s bylaws, rules and procedures is a lot more prevalent among leftwing organizations than it is for rightwing groups. It’s really easy to understand why.

Those of us on the left generally reject the authoritarian hierarchy that the right embraces. Rightwing organizations tend to entrust a lot of power in the Chair/President and the Executive Committee. While individual members do have the right to question the decisions made by its leaders, this power is not often used because of the belief in the correctness of the authoritarian model.

Leftwing organizations tend to incorporate a more free-flowing decision-making model. Every member is afforded the opportunity for meaningful input. Leaders are supposed to act at the behest of the will of the members. In other words, the left employs a bottom-top framework, while the right uses the more classic top-bottom model.

While I certainly agree with the bottom-top perspective, I think too many leftwing and progressive groups are guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They too often fuse authoritarianism with structure and jettison both.

Structure, the mechanisms devised to insure just and consistent decision-making, can and should exist, regardless of the decision-making methodology employed. Put another way, structure is not the same thing as authoritarian hierarchy.

For any building to stand, it must have a strong foundation and structure. If these two interrelated elements do not exist, the building will collapse like a house of cards. The same is true for organizations. If a group can’t even learn to walk it’s talk (i.e., follow its own structure), what’s the use? Why should anyone inside or outside of the group care what the group has decided?

How decisions are made is important. The process matters.

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