Meetings are a lot like presentations. They need a purpose. And one of the most important purposes for a meeting is to make a decision. Yet decision meetings are often more frustrating and less productive than they should be.

"Involvement is the key to better decision meetings," notes ECG Chief Executive Officer Frank Carillo. "It doesn't matter how good a decision is if there's resistance to its implementation. Much of a decision meeting should be geared toward acceptance of the ultimate decision."

Involvement helps ensure acceptance; the following six tips can help secure that involvement.

ADDRESS PARTICIPANTS' CHARACTERISTICS

What's at stake for the participants? What are their likely concerns and needs? Devise a plan for addressing those concerns as well as diverse communication styles. "Each participant needs to be recognized," Carillo suggests, "both for their responsibility in the organization and the contributions they can make to the decision." Solicit comment from those who may hesitate; draw them in so that their involvement and perspective become visible.

ASSEMBLE INFORMATION

Know the level of preparation needed. Gather information but also ask participants to furnish information according to their expertise. Share it ahead of time; plan how it will be used during the meeting. Aim for a data-driven decision, one that is as free as possible of emotional bias.

CLARIFY PROCESSES

Explain the decision-making process, including the components of corporate culture that will have a role. Because decisions can be made through all sorts of mechanisms, it's essential that participants know which decision structure will be used and what its procedures will be. Otherwise, Carillo says, misaligned expectations are likely to cause some participants to disengage, and disengagement can derail a decision or its implementation.

SEPARATE AND SEQUENCE

Lumping several decisions into one confuses priorities and principles. Try to make one decision at a time; isolate each one and attend to it before moving to another. Constructing an agenda can help you separate the decision strands and share sequenced decision points. It helps participants stay on course, guides their attention, and assures them that related components will be considered, all of which contribute to fuller involvement.

PRINCIPLE FOCUS

Focus on principles, not on positions. Once participants form a position, they tend to expend their energy defending that position instead of assessing the data and principles needed to craft the most effective or most workable decision. Taking the temperature of the room is likely to result in a network of battle lines and discussion of why any given solution is the best, a discussion that will alienate those whose positions are not popular or who have not formed one. Instead, help participants stay focused on the value of the elements of a particular alternative.

PHRASE THE DECISION CLEARLY

When it's time to create a proposal or decision statement, construct it so that its terms are clear and concise. A vague or hazy statement, one that's open to interpretation, creates confusion about what participants are agreeing to or supporting, diminishing the chance of acceptance and dedicated implementation. Enlist participants' help in determining the language of the decision and check their understanding so that when a decision turns into an initiative, there's no surprise.

Acceptance need not signify complete agreement. But it does show that participants have been involved enough in the process to understand how and why a particular decision has been reached. Carillo emphasizes that an effective decision requires quality and acceptance, referring to an equation offered by J. Clayton Lafferty some years ago: ED=Q+A "Throughout the decision meeting," he urges, "stay in tune with participants, with their level of involvement. A good decision with low acceptance is useless. But a good decision with high acceptance will lead to successful implementation."