Ditch the debate — grab a seat at the kitchen table
There are many ways for a group to work toward a good solution. In Solution Focus, debate is not one of them. Instead Solution Focus coaches and practitioners look to the roundtable model. A roundtable is a place where many voices can be heard and a dialogue can evolve to lead a group in the direction that the majority wants to go. A debate is much more cut and dry: there are two sides, battling it out for victory with little to no real consideration for counter arguments to be incorporated into that final decision. Solution Focus looks for opportunities for long-term positive change with input from all sides. Decisions should be fair and informed.
You might be wondering, if debate is really so extreme, why is it used so often for decision making? Debate has its place in the world. It is an efficient approach for many fields including politics and science. Both have dominant parties and theories that take hold, affecting huge and often disparate groups of people. People rally around politicians the same way academics rally around scientific theories and research. In both cases things are often presented as right or wrong, as fact, and as the best solution. In order for those of a different mindset to get a word in edgewise, a debate is often the best solution. In a debate, two sides essentially pick each other apart. In science this can be very useful if a debate reveals flawed logic in a theory. In politics debate can be extremely useful because it forces politicians to delve deeper into their campaign promises. A debate can expose that a promise will not be delivered on, or that it will, and was well thought out. Debate is essential to both fields and holds value that a roundtable discussion does not.
Why gather round the kitchen table?
So why are roundtable discussions so well suited to Solution Focus? Roundtables are perfect for businesses and groups of people working together. People who compose groups are essentially stakeholders in the solutions sought by the group as a collective. Decisions made at the table affect all stakeholders directly. Because of this, these group members are entitled to a say in the decision making process. A Solution Focus roundtable should be thought of as a ‘kitchen table’ — a safe place that invites conversation, collaboration and good feelings. People are made to feel at ease, not defensive (as they would be — without question — in a debate), and dialogue is welcome. This open, focused, yet relaxed atmosphere is the ideal breeding ground for new long-term solutions that will work for a group collectively. Egos take a back seat, feelings are protected and voices are heard.
It is the job of the Solution Focus coach to maintain the purposeful and open atmosphere of the ‘kitchen table’ or roundtable. S/he is the host. It is their responsibility to ensure that everyone gets to speak, not just the bigger personalities in the room. This kitchen table approach temporarily demolishes any corporate hierarchy to allow a free flow of ideas from every level of the group. Roundtables can and, more often than not, do generate amazing ideas and sound solutions because they offer a forum for freedom of speech and thought.
For more on the roundtable model in action check out Alan Kay’s Fry the Monkeys post here.