There are critical moments in meetings, like that one in 1921…

Yesterday, The Irish Times published a supplement – 1921 Truce And Treaty – on the events in 1921 that led to partition in Ireland, shaping its history for a century.

The centenary stirs deep feelings on all sides.

The centenary supplement includes a description of the meeting in London on December 6th 1921, at which 12 men – for they were all men – signed The Anglo-Irish Treaty.

That moment when all 12 had signed the document was the issue’s critical moment. The moments before or after the Treaty’s signing, momentous as some of those were, do not compare with that moment.

I am fascinated by critical moments in crucial meetings in history, politics, business and personal lives.

My fascination is not about counterfactual exploration but the behaviour of decision-makers. The quality of the process is vital.

Why, exactly, did Dev stay in Dublin? Not, what if he hadn’t.

Why, when the delegation returned to Dublin to a meeting to discuss the draft treaty, was that meeting such a shambles? Not what if it had been otherwise.

And why did Lloyd George threaten immediate war if the delegation didn’t sign the Treaty that day when he must have known that the signing could have been delayed? Not what if he hadn’t.

We all find ourselves in or as witnesses to these critical moments, even if they are not on this epic scale.

But all critical moments share degrees of joy or horror.

Hearing they’re all “being made redundant” is a critical moment of horror for a workforce caught up in a “downsizing”.

The moment the board decides to downsize is a critical moment for it. For some board members, the decision will have been easy if not joyful. For others, it’s torture.

But what of the quality of that decision? Were all the pros and cons available to all and on time? Was the decision driven through or adequately debated? Was there even a vote, or did the chair declare, “It looks like we’re all agreed then. Next item.”

Or worse, was the decision-making process fudged whereby the precise views of every director remains unclear. “A decision was made, but I was against it, actually”

Loyd George, Chamberlain (Austen), Lord Birkenhead, Churchill, Worthington-Evans, Greenwood, and Hewart signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty for the British side.

Griffith, Collins, Barton, Duggan, Gavan Duffy signed for the Irish side.

The personalities of these 12 men informed their behaviour during the negotiation and ultimately their decision to sign the Treaty. Their formative years shaped their characters.

Character defines how you behave in critical moments in a decision-making process.

Behaviour and decision-making processes at critical moments matter, one way or another.

Ciarán Fenton

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