One of the things that is always difficult for a planning facilitator is drawing out ideas from everyone on the team. No matter how many little tricks and tools we apply to get all of the members of the planning team to speak up and pitch in, there are always a few who simply don’t participate very much.

It’s not surprising, and after doing this for more than 25 years, I have come to expect it and accept it. Though I must admit that it still frustrates me because I believe the best decisions always come from the collective wisdom of the group.

When some of the members choose not to share their insights, don’t raise the questions that come to their mind, and don’t weigh in on the pros and cons, the group simply doesn’t achieve that best possible outcomes.

But there is another common behavior that happens in virtually every planning session that I facilitate, that is far more damaging and potentially even dangerous.

It goes like this.

At some point during the discussions an experienced member of the Board shares their thoughts about an issue that is being discussed, and everyone in the room listens in silence. They neither agree nor disagree. They just don’t comment at all.

Watching the facial expressions and the very subtle non-verbals of the group, I can often see discomfort or subtle disagreement with what is being said, but no one speaks up. Some even silently shake their heads in disagreement, but they don’t say anything. And when I ask for reactions, responses, or additional input, no one contributes.

While that may be the polite thing to do, it is the wrong thing to do. The goal of the strategic planning process is to surface ideas, discuss their pros and cons, and make the best possible decision for the membership of the credit union. It is not to give in to the experienced voices in the room and not show any open disagreement with the ideas being shared.

Before you think that I am perceiving these situations incorrectly or looking for problems where they don’t exist, think about your own experiences…perhaps they mirror mine. Such as the times when the session ends and the conversation that should have happened in the room happens in the hallways, or times when a few months down the road it becomes clear that the lack of comments was perceived as agreement with what was being said…leading the group to rehash the subject or to just move it further down the road to avoid the confrontation.

Please don’t misunderstand my motivation here. It is not to create disagreement where it does not exist. It is merely to encourage everyone who has stepped up to serve to realize the value of their input and the implicit power of their silence. Both should be used wisely and after careful consideration if the true objective is to reach the best decisions for your credit union.

ACTION ADVICE: When you see this happen, or allow yourself to let it happen, speak up…ask others what they think, share your opinions and reactions, voice other ideas…do whatever it takes to make sure that the group addresses the issues in the forum where they should be discussed and not in the hallways and the online conversations. In short, accept the weight of the role you play and help the group make better decisions because they talked candidly and openly about the areas of agreement AND the areas of disagreement.