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Previously, I have had this group discussion as a part of a recruitment process. I think the purpose of this discussion was so that the recruiter can see our attitude when working in team. We were told to read a case study and then solve it together afterwards. The recruiter lets us decide how we want to do the discussion.

At that moment, I failed and did not pass to the next round of the recruitment process. Thinking again, when I lead the discussion I think I wasn't effective back then, as our discussion did not get into a concluded solution.

Fortunately, there's no one who takes the initiative to take the lead for the discussion, so I did (I think I'll get a point for that because I stand out). The approach that I took was let each team member express their opinion on the case, after that we focus on developing the solution. I think here is where I didn't get it right.

After that I state the list of argument from each person and try to conclude by myself on what is the best solution and I take the same approach again, let each team member express what do they think. There's a lot of disagreement there, hence the discussion becomes messy, going back-and-forth, and after the discussion time ended, we did not get to conclude what's the best solution for the given case.

My question is, what's the right approach to lead the discussion in this situation? I think it is harder to do because we are all equal in position (everyone involved is an employee candidate), so I cannot just decide the solution by myself as I'm also not the expert. Additionally, if I really took control on the decision I'm afraid of being judged by the recruiter that I'm too dominant.

I really want to know it in a step-by-step manner. I feel like I'm not really clear on what I should do right after everyone has stated their opinion. I think that by starting the next discussion with my opinion on what's the key problem (by concluding everyone's opinion) and what's the solution isn't really effective (as I failed with this method before). Or is it effective?

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  • Are you planning on re-applying to this company?
    – sf02
    Sep 29 at 14:06
  • @sf02 no, but I will have similar test format in next week
    – el-cheapo
    Sep 29 at 14:07
  • What is the position in question? Sep 29 at 14:13
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    its a management role, but a trainee because its meant to be for fresh graduate @JulianaKarasawaSouza
    – el-cheapo
    Sep 29 at 14:15
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Ok, I've been there, both as a participant and as an evaluator. And doing this type of case study is essentially my job description (I'm a Continuous Improvement facilitator), so bear with me for a moment.

The objective is pretty clear:

We were told to read a case study and then solve it together afterwards

Besides the very obvious "did not complete the assignment" failure, please remember that you decided to take the lead on the discussion, so you should expect that a larger portion of the "blame" will fall on you (which is par for the course with management roles).

Your initial idea was indeed a good one, let everyone present their ideas and contribute to the team, but you failed to facilitate a discussion by trying to dominate the wrong part which led to the group spiraling out of control.

You should have dominated the discussion and not the decision-making, taking the team with you on the decision-making process and making the group focus on agreeing to an unified front.

It is not bad that you took initiative and tried to organize stuff, you need to keep your own role in mind when doing this type of things.

So here are a few pointers

TIME KEEPING: As a mediator, your main role is time keeping. Develop a sense for when things need to happen and what kind of "gates" you want to achieve by when. Keep an eye on the clock and keep the group on track

PROBLEM FIRST: Some cases might not have very clear what the actual problem to be addressed is. Your first task is to make sure that everybody agrees on what is the problem the group will try to solve. This step is important to limit the scope of your solutions and prevent future discussions (you can then easily cut some discussions that don't directly address the issue at hand with more finesse). If your group agree on the problem, they'll agree on the solution with FAR more ease. Keep your problem description (agreed by the group) always visible

IDEA GENERATION: Here any off-the-shelf solution will do. Brainstorm is more generic, my go-to is Ishikawa as it also helps separate the ideas in "themes" for later discussion. You don't need to spend a lot of time here, especially if you did the problem description well-done. Don't shoot down ideas and don't let anyone shoot down ideas

CROSSING OUT: Here is good to have a clear set of criteria for eliminating or accepting ideas, so people don't feel that's "unfair" that their idea got cut down or don't try to argue their point to exhaustion.

For improvement ideas I like the good old 4-quadrant matrix plotting Effort (or investment) x Return:

  1. Have the group rank the ideas based on those criteria and spread them out in the quadrant
  2. Low Effort, High Return are automatically approved
  3. High Effort, Low Return are automatically rejected
  4. The remaining ones can be discussed further if time allows for that, or the group can present the evaluation of those ideas as next steps

NEXT STEPS: Here is the place where you put the summary of the actions discussed. Sort the ideas that are to be implemented and put them on top. Ideas that need to be further evaluated go next with the appropriate remark (e.g. "investment needs to be estimated", "more information on X technology needed", etc. etc.) so it is clear what you need to do to make things move forward. Do not mention the "discarded ideas".

This format also makes for easy presentation of the case later, making the "train of thought" of the group visible

More tips:

  • As a mediator, it will definitely give you brownie points if you read the group and try to bring out the people who are less outspoken. In a professional setting you'll always have some people who will talk non-stop and the ones who will shy away from the noise but have great contributions. Be aware and try to help.
  • Universal consensus is not always possible - focus on the ideas with a large majority in favor and let the "controversial" ideas go to the "need evaluation" pile
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    I've upvoted your answer but don't neccesarily agree you will get more blame as you took the lead, I would personally give someone credit who stood up and took ownership even if it dodn't work out. The rest of your post is really helpful though.
    – Alan Dev
    Sep 29 at 16:31
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I've taught meeting facilitation classes, and in general, I think you did great! Having led many hiring efforts, I'll note this might not have been the reason you didn't move forward--the test was just one piece of information. Also, if the company doesn't appreciate your kind of initiative, it might not have been the right job for you.

That said, a common step-by-step approach when you don't have much time is:

  1. Solicit a list of rapid-fire ideas, without judgement or discussion ("brainstorming"), writing them on a whiteboard if available.
  2. Help the group pare down the list to 3-5 options by combining or dropping ideas.
  3. Try to gain consensus on one solution (general support, not necessarily full agreement).
  4. If you're running out of time, use the "100 Votes" technique: Give everyone 100 votes to spread among all the solutions as they see fit, and an obvious winner should emerge.

In response to your comment, to pare down the list:

  1. Look for similar items, and ask the group to write a single item that combines them.
  2. Look for items that are vague or don't directly apply, and ask if you can remove them.
  3. Apply the Pareto Rule, asking the team to identify the 20% of items that would make 80% of the impact.
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  • How do I help my group to pare down the list? I think until now I don't have that ability to do that effectively, the discussion that I lead seems to always go back and forth
    – el-cheapo
    Sep 29 at 14:36
  • Added to my answer above Oct 5 at 13:40

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