There are many things you need to do to manage groups in complex multi-party discussions. There is a lot to consider. The actual conditions of the meetings such as lighting, noise level, air quality and temperature, where people are placed, group size and seating pattern are all-important. If the meeting is going to last a long time remember that larger rooms give more opportunities for people to spread out and be comfortable. People need to be identified with cards or nametags and will need supplies like pencils and paper. A white board or flipchart are good tools for recording ideas, structuring the agenda and providing a focus place where amendments, wording of documents and motions can be proposed. It may be a good idea to have an impartial neutral person as a facilitator. They should be somebody who has no stake in the outcome and won’t the affected by it.
Make sure everybody understands the costs of failure. Is a viable best alternative to a negotiated agreement and is everyone willing to move towards it if the solution is poor enough? Everyone has to consider what can happen if there is an agreement. Everyone needs to understand all the options and it may be useful to review all these and discuss them as well as any alternatives. It’s a good idea to define how the decision will be made because it can cause conflict over the final outcome. Who makes a decision on how should it be made. Often group decisions are made by the minority because one party is stronger than the other. They have greater status or maybe are just better persuaders.
It may be that decision will be agreed to be based on a vote. Will it be passed with just a simple majority, or need a large majority? You even need to have a consensus. Consensus is likely to be a more important outcome, because everyone will be more committed to a decision reached by consensus rather than that of a simple majority. In group negotiations particularly, it is extremely important to have an agenda and to use it. It can be generated by the facilitator or by the group as a whole if that is feasible. The agenda defines what track you will be on and keeps people to it and can include a list of the issues which are being negotiated, definitions of what each issue is order of discussion, and the amount of time that will be allocated to discussion and resolution. Remember that an agenda can be a very strong control mechanism if used in a manipulative fashion.
The one who makes up the agenda can dominate the meeting. If you believe the agenda is unfair don’t hesitate to question it and how it was developed. Finally remember that the moderator in multi-party negotiations is there to manage the process only and not the outcome and there are some specific steps which can be taken if you happen to be placed in that position. Your IT architecture coach can teach you how to develop facilitation skills. As an IT architect you will find yourself using negotiation skills every day. If you want every day to be a good day you will learn to use them well.