Author: Craig Freshley


Good Group Tips

In principle, groups make their best decisions when no single person knows what’s best for the group. “No one in this room is smarter than all of us,” is a popular phrase among some groups.

When I go into a meeting already sure of what the outcome should be, I am apt to focus on getting my way rather than on what’s best for the group as a whole. Knowing in advance how things should be closes off the potential of things being better than I can imagine.

Practical Tip: At the start of every meeting, say to yourself: “I don’t know what’s best for the group.” Begin with an open mind and remain open-minded as long as possible. Maximize the value of your contributions by giving up ownership of them. Release the need to take credit and the need to be a victim. Simply play your right-sized part as best you can and watch the group’s best unfold.

Straw vote

Good Group Tips

In principle, the best group decisions are based on shared understanding of everyone’s perspective, and a good way to get a quick read of where everyone stands is to take a straw vote. A straw vote is not a real vote; it doesn’t count over the long run, like straw. Someone might say, “Let’s just see how people feel about the latest idea. All those who tend to like it, show a thumb up. If you tend not to like it, show a thumb down. If you are neutral or undecided, show a horizontal thumb.” Count the thumbs in the three categories. That’s a straw vote.

It lets everyone in the group see, in a quick and general way, if the latest idea is worth more group time and energy. It also shows where the concerns are (the down thumbs) so we know who to call on to hear concerns.

Some groups use color cards for straw votes. Some use high-tech remote keypads and the results are graphed instantly on a screen in front of the room. The most efficient groups use straw votes often and with ease.

Practical Tip: Don’t hesitate to call for, or participate in, a straw vote. Before calling for a straw vote, make sure the question is clear and simple; you don’t want to waste group time haggling about: “What are we voting on?”

When calling for a straw vote, remind everyone that it does not count over the long run; that everyone has the right to change their mind later; that it is simply a quick and blurry snapshot of how we feel at this moment. Still, even a snapshot can be worth a thousand words.

Come to the Meeting!

If we want real resolutions to hard problems, we need to hear all points of view. In this video on the way to a meeting — with signs along the road that say “Come to the meeting!” — Craig explains why being in the room is so important.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, on my way to a meeting, and as I’m driving to this meeting I noticed that there are some signs along the road. Let’s read them.

This one says: ‘SOS’, ‘Save our shoreline access’, ‘Come one come all’, ‘Come heed the call’, ‘Come speak your piece’,  ‘On paper streets’, ‘Attend the public forum’, ‘Today, Saturday’.

Look, when we have a public meeting on a controversial topic like the one I’m driving to, it helps if we have all kinds of points of view in the room. There are some people here in Cape Elizabeth, Maine who have taken the initiative to try and encourage people to come to this meeting.

If we want to arrive at a peaceful solution we have our best chance of doing that if we hear all the concerns of all the people in the same room at the same time, because that allows us to ask questions of each other and really understand where each other’s coming from.

So I’m off to facilitate a public meeting at which we hope to hear from each other, understand each other, and maybe come to some ideas about peaceful resolution.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody!

Good in everyone

Good Group Tips

In principle, the chances of making good group decisions are greatly increased if all the participants believe that there is good in everyone. We’re more likely to do well if we look for the best in each other. For some, believing that there is good in every person is a moral conviction. For others, seeking and bringing out the best in people is just plain practical.

Practical Tip: Act as if there is good in everyone, even when it’s not apparent. Treat every person along your path as if they are special. If you believe in God, act as if there is that of God in every person.

To act this way is to give the benefit of the doubt. It is to assume best intentions. It is to be attentive, respectful, supportive, and encouraging. When we look for the best in people rather than the worst, it makes them want to be with us and work with us. When a group is relentlessly seeking out the best from within each person, people give their best to the group and great things are achieved.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Change or accept

Good Group Tips

In principle, when I am in conflict with others in my group or troubled by a difficult circumstance, and I want relief, I have basically two choices: I can either work to change things for the better or I can work to accept things as they are. Both paths require effort on my part. Idle complaints, criticisms, or gossip will not really help things and will likely make things worse.

And most things, it’s helpful to keep in mind, I probably can’t change. The only thing I really have power over is my own beliefs and behaviors. If I changed these, would it ease the conflict?

Practical Tip: When in conflict, draw a circle around yourself. Draw it so that inside the circle are the things you can change and outside the circle are the things you cannot:

1. Define the circle of things within your control.

2. Work to change things within the circle.

3. Let go of all that’s outside the circle.

In other words: define your part; take responsibility for improving your part; do not take on other parts.

Work inside the circle—addressing the things you can change—is all about action. It’s about doing things differently.

Work outside the circle—the things you can’t change—is all about acceptance. It’s about seeing things differently.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

How to Form a Committee – 5 Essentials

When you form a committee or any kind of group to do a job, here are five things to keep in mind.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hey everybody! Hi, it’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished up a meeting right here in this boardroom – Penobscot River right outside that window.

A lot of times when a big group meets, they make small groups. Sometimes the small group is called the committee. Sometimes it’s a task force. Sometimes it’s a working group, but a lot of times the big group doesn’t quite get all its work done or needs some specialized help, and sometimes the big group is forming a small group with limited time, like at the last minute, like the meeting is about to end. It kind of happened like that here today.

When a big group forms a small group, keep in mind these five things:

First of all, give your small group, your committee, a name. The ‘XYZ Committee’: say it out loud, put it in the notes, so everybody knows the name of the group.

Secondly, name a lead person who is responsible for convening at least the first meeting of the group. They don’t have to be the ongoing chair, but don’t send a group of people off to do something without one of them having responsibility for bringing the group together.

Number three, name the members of the group or put in place a protocol for them to be named.

Number four, establish the committee charge. The statement of purpose. The charter, whatever you want to call it, but actually write the words that represent what you expect the committee to do. And part of that charge should be clarifying whether the committee has authority to actually make decisions and if so, what is the scope of that authority? Or is it their responsibility to gather information and share it, or is it their responsibility to provide a recommendation? Be clear about that.

Fifth thing, establish some sort of timeline. Whatever they’re supposed to do – when does the big group expect to hear back from them? Name a timeline. Now look, you might be rushed, and you might only have time at the very last minute to write down the name of the committee and establish a lead person. Then it becomes that person’s job to convene the group and make a recommendation, or do those other three or four things that you didn’t get done.

Whether at the moment the group is conceived, or in the first meeting or two of the group, every committee should have those five things universally understood, agreed upon, and written down.

That’s how you make committees. Committees are a key part of making good group decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Speak your truth and let go

Good Group Tips

In principle, an extremely valuable contribution I can make to a group decision is to discern my own truth and share it with the group. Deep inside, what do I really feel? This requires me to cut through the clutter of all that’s on my mind. Discerning my truth requires me to be in touch with my feelings, to be honest with myself.

Sharing my truth requires courage. It might make me feel vulnerable. It might unleash other truths.

Protecting myself requires that I speak my truth and let go of the outcome. How others react to my truth is not my responsibility. Detachment is the secret to peace.

Practical Tip: Speak what’s on your heart rather than what’s on your mind. Don’t get mired in calculating the consequences. Speak your truth and let go of the outcome. One way to be sure you are speaking truth: say only what you feel. No one can argue with what you feel.

Once I was in a meeting and spoke my truth. Afterwards, I became terribly afraid of the consequences. I asked someone, “Did I say the right thing?” The response came without hesitation: “How could you not have?” they replied, “You spoke from your heart.”

When to unpack conflict as a group

When should the whole group confront a conflict, and when not to? In this video, Craig explains that if it’s truly “in the way,” then you are going to have to “unpack” it. And he explains why.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. Sometimes there’s something that happened in a group which has upset a lot of people and there’s some people in the group that just can’t move forward, or you know it’s attention that is in the way of getting stuff done. There’s often a discussion about whether we need to as a group confront that thing and talk about it or can we just, you know, move on without talking about that thing.

I have come to believe that if you’ve got a thing, a resentment, a disagreement, a misunderstanding, somebody’s angry at somebody – if you’ve got a thing like that that is in the way of making forward progress on other things, you should talk about it as a group. Three reasons why.

One is: if you don’t, that thing is going to come up in other ways and other settings anyway. It’s going to continue to plague your group.

Number two: Until you talk about it, there is a power imbalance and it’s because some people in the group know about the thing and some people don’t, and it’s just a weird dynamic and a sense of uncertainty among some people of not really knowing the story.

Number three: By unpacking and talking about the thing, you’ll learn some new things. You’ll “out” some lessons learned. You will be a better group going forward because you unpacked the thing.

Now, the way that you unpack the thing is critical. It helps if you have a professional or somebody from among your group who knows what they’re doing. It helps if you encourage people to simply tell their stories from their own individual perspective and it helps if you don’t try to draw any grand conclusion about the thing. You don’t need to do that. The goal of unpacking a thing that’s in the way of making forward progress is shared understanding of the thing, so everybody can move forward in a healthy and productive way.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody!


Good Group Tips

In principle, it’s better to be kind than to be right. The ego in me wants me to be right. The peace seeker in me wants me to be kind. The word kind is related to the word kin. They both come from the same root, kin, meaning family. To be kind is to treat people like family, as if we were intimately connected over time.

Practical Tip: To contribute to good group decisions I feed the peace seeker within, keep the ego in check, and strive for kindness. I am more interested in my healthy relations with fellow decision makers over the long run than I am in getting my way in the short run. I give unconditionally without expectation of return, free of strings. True kindness is not only free, it’s priceless.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Attribution Bias

We have a tendency to trust people in “our tribe” but in this video – with a little side rant about the express checkout lane at the grocery store – Craig cautions us to consider our biases if we want to make good group decisions.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. I want to explain a concept called attribution bias.

I’m at the grocery store. I’m in the checkout line. Actually, the line that I’m in says express – 14 items or less – and I’m pretty sure that the person in front of me has like 27 items in their cart. Not that I’m counting.

They get up to the clerk and the clerk says, “Excuse me, but you’re only supposed to have 14 items if you’re in this line.” And the person responds like in a real snippy voice,“Well, that’s just too bad isn’t it? Ring me up anyways.”

Now if that person is part of my tribe I am apt to look upon them favorably. If they look like me, same skin color, same age, wearing the same kind of clothes. Maybe I’m a Democrat and they’ve got a button that says Hillary or something like that. I might give them a break. I might think, “Okay, she said a mean thing to the clerk but you know, she probably had a long hard day just like I did. She’s probably got problems at home just like I do.” And I’d be inclined to give her a break.

Now if that person is not part of my tribe, if they look different than me – maybe it’s a young man. Maybe he’s got a haircut and tattoos that I don’t like. Maybe I’m a Democrat, and maybe he’s got a Trump sticker. I might be apt to think, “Well gosh darn, that guy is a jerk. He should respect his elders and the grocery store clerk, and why are these people so mean all the time.”

In both of those cases I have attributed characteristics to those people that I actually have no idea about. Because of my bias I attribute motive. I make a character judgment. It happens in grocery store lines and it happens when we are trying to make decisions in groups.

I might make a proposal in a meeting and somebody else opposes me. If they’re of “my tribe” I might think, “Well they might have a good point – I need to hear them out and see what they have to say about this.” If they are not in “my tribe” I might think “There she goes again. Just being mean. She just doesn’t get it, she doesn’t see the world correctly like I do.” When I let my attribution biases come to the surface, I prevent me and my group from gaining the best possible wisdom available.

When I shut people off because of what I think are their motives or their character, I’m robbing both of us of some good opportunities to make the world better. When I’m at my best, I am burying my biases and I am looking upon each person I meet, regardless of what they look like, as somebody who has things to give and as somebody who might have had a hard day and who has problems at home.

I hope this helps you and your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.