TeamBuild March 2017: The one-text approach

What do you do when you have a team that is complicated or stuck that needs to come to consensus? One of my favorite tools is a version of the one-text approach in Getting to Yes.[1]

Perhaps the most famous use of the one-text procedure was by the United States at Camp David in September 1978 when mediating between Egypt and Israel. The United States listened to both sides, prepared a draft to which no one was committed, asked for criticism, and improved the draft again and again. …After 13 days and some 23 drafts President Carter recommend(ed) it, (and) Israel and Egypt accepted.

When I worked with Bill Ury, the author of Getting to Yes, at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard, we used this concept with Soviets to set up a system to avoid accidental nuclear war. I use the one-text approach to bring teams to agreement on a strategic direction, a funding proposal, operating rules between business units, and more.

My version of the one-text approach has three steps that repeat:

  • Discuss the issue with the whole group.
  • Apart from the group meeting, create a draft.
  • Discuss a physical manifestation of the draft in the whole group.

In the initial group discussion, discuss the challenge and set up the structure of the final document or agreement. Note differences but, if they are difficult, leave them for the drafting team. Take public notes, such as on flip charts or projected on a screen.

Assign one person, a small team, or a multiple small teams to write the first draft, the “draft to which no one is committed to” mentioned above. Circulate the draft to the group.

Meet again as a group. Discuss the draft in a physical format, on a screen, on paper, or on a virtual shared document. In this way, the discussion – and the pointed fingers, raised voices, and dissension — are directed at the text rather than at an individual. Where it is possible to come to agreement, do so. But where there are sticky issues, leave them for the next drafting group. Assign new groups for each section. Repeat through multiple rounds of drafting.

It is fascinating how through this process, a general consensus will emerge. If there are still unresolved issues, park them by recommending further study or by noting in the text where agreement has not yet been reached. Invoke the Camp David Accords.

[1]  Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury, 1981, Penguin Books.

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