Author: Craig Freshley

If you don’t have a stake, get out of the way

Good Group Tips

In principle, those who have a stake in the outcome—stakeholders—are the most appropriate participants in good group decisions. They stand to win, perhaps a lot, or lose a lot depending on the decision. In principle, those with the highest stakes tend to consider decisions most carefully. People who don’t have a real stake may want to participate but may not consider issues deeply because they do not have to. Non-stakeholders may give opinions based on shallow considerations, and those opinions can be in the way of the true stakeholders trying to achieve a good group decision.

Practical Tip: If you don’t have a real stake in the decision, don’t weigh in on the discussion. If you are about to say, “Well, I really don’t care either way, but…” or “It doesn’t matter to me, but…” consider saying nothing instead.

– Craig Freshley

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Write on the walls

Good Group Tips

 

In principle, good group decisions stem from shared understanding and shared understanding comes from reading off the same page.

Also, people like to feel heard and when people feel heard it allows the group to move on. A very effective way for someone to feel heard is for their point to get written for everyone to see.

Practical Tip: For every group meeting, have on hand the ability to write words in front of the group. Markers and a flip chart work well or you might use a laptop and projector. There are many creative ways.

When people make comments, paraphrase them on the chart or the screen. The words don’t need to be perfect, but representative of the view expressed.

When it seems like the group is agreeing to something, write words to represent the agreement. Make sure everyone understands and accepts the representative words.

Writing public words that represent viewpoints and agreements is a learned skill and requires focused effort. When done well it leads to shared understanding and individual empowerment — two key building blocks of good group decisions.

– Craig Freshley

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A way to say no

Good Group Tips

 

In principle, it is generally much harder to say no than to say yes, either in a group or as a group. As an individual in the face of group sentiment – sometimes called peer pressure – it is much easier to quietly agree than to take an opposing stand. As a group faced with adding things or cutting things, saying yes to new things is much easier than saying no because we get instant credit for new intentions but the liability – the responsibility for implementing the new initiative – is spread out over many individuals, put off into the future, underestimated, or simply overlooked.

But when we say yes without proper accounting for the liabilities they pile up, become due, spread us too thin, and water down our focus resulting in failure to achieve our most important goals.

Practical Tip: Identify and continually affirm your most important goals. Groups do this by establishing strategic plans, decision criteria, performance objectives, and other means. With every opportunity to say yes or no to new things, ask, “How does this help achieve what is most important?”

Practice saying things like: “That’s a good idea, I understand and appreciate your perspective, but that simply doesn’t fit with our priorities right now. Perhaps it could be addressed by someone else or at another time.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and other books, reminds us that great organizations have “piercing clarity” about what they want to achieve and “relentless discipline” to say no to diversions.

A way to say no is to have something more important to which you are saying yes.

– Craig Freshley

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Coalition membership

Good Group Tips

 

In principle, coalitions are held together by belief in a common cause. Membership is often flexible and responsive to coalition positions.

The strongest coalitions are unanimous in every vote; each member fully supportive of every position. Sometimes a member may stand in the way of the coalition’s desires; called a veto, which is fine once in a great while. Even the strongest coalitions compromise occasionally to hold the group together.

Yet when a member repeatedly blocks or disagrees with others, it’s probably time to adjust the membership of the coalition. Those that don’t agree, consistently, don’t belong.

Practical Tip: Go for “unanimous” on every decision. Publicly support, as a coalition, only those things that each of you support. Use vetoes very sparingly.

Let the edges of membership be defined by the members’ agreements with each other. If you generally agree on what the coalition has done and where it’s headed, stay or join. If you don’t generally agree, leave or don’t join.

Do not let just one or two disagreeable members hold up coalition action over and over again. It’s okay to kick someone out of a coalition because they consistently don’t agree with what everyone else wants to do. And it’s okay to invite new members who are consistently supportive.

Closed for Summer

I started Good Group Decisions 17 years ago and there has never been a better time to take a break than right now.

My traditional business of facilitating in-person meetings has evaporated. It’s not clear how to adapt this little company of mine. And it’s summer in Maine!

So I have decided to close down for a couple months; step away from the office and the email for awhile. You might call it a little sabbatical.

I will probably start booking clients again in the Fall. If you have a project in mind, click here to tell me about it.

Yet for now I am making no commitments. I am keeping my calendar clear for awhile. I am considering all possibilities for next steps. If you have ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear your thoughts.

My plan is to be on sabbatical until the Fall Equinox, September 22.

Thank you for understanding.

– Craig

Make others look good

Good Group Tips

In principle, a good team is a group of people who try to make each other look good. Harry Truman said, “It’s amazing how much we can do if we don’t care who gets the credit.” Similarly, we can spend huge amounts of energy caring about who gets the blame. To make good group decisions we support each other going forward and we give credit for success to the group.

Practical Tip: Give your ideas and efforts to the group, without conditions, without lingering ownership. Show public appreciation for others in your group. Own your share of things gone wrong and share credit with others for things gone right.

– Craig Freshley

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My responsibility

Good Group Tips

In principle, when we are part of a group we are apt to expect the group or other members of the group to do things on our behalf. When faced with a problem to be solved or a task to be done we might think, “someone else will take care of it.” This seems different from being independent where every problem and every task is “my responsibility.” Group belonging creates the illusion of group responsibility. But it is an illusion. Still, it is “my responsibility.”

When group members give up responsibility to the group as a whole, the group doesn’t get anything done.

We can spend a lot of time and energy wishing our group was different, complaining about our group, questioning other group members about their ways. But there is only one question that leads to real change: “What am I going to do about it?”

Practical Tip: Don’t just talk about how things should change. BE the change that you want for your group, for your world. Don’t just wish that problems were solved and tasks were done. Do things.

– Craig Freshley

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Work with energy

Good Group Tips

 

In principle, energy in a group is like current in a river. Sometimes it flows strong in a specific direction with all group members feeling strongly about the same thing. It might be huge, shared enthusiasm. It might be huge, shared anger. Sometimes group energy is virtually stagnant or almost undetectable. Sometimes it is turbulent with opposing and complex swirling currents.

Like group energy, you can’t change a river’s current with the flip of a switch. At best you can hold it up briefly or redirect it, but strong currents cannot be eliminated. The energy has to go somewhere.

Practical Tip: When trying to lead a group with a strong current work with the group energy and not against it. At best, redirect group energy in helpful ways; ways that work incrementally towards group objectives. Work with the group’s most energetic people and encourage slight changes of course.

If a group is stagnant or turbulent and you want to get them moving in a shared direction, do so by offering a way forward. Make a compelling suggestion rather than a punitive threat.

Maintain credibility. Do not offend. Go with the flow.

– Craig Freshley

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Light hand on the tiller

Good Group Tips

In principle, when the sailboat is nicely trimmed; that is, the sails are set perfectly for the wind and direction of travel, the skipper can have a light hand on the tiller. The tiller is what steers the boat, connected to the rudder. Ideal sailing is no pressure on the rudder and no need to hold the tiller tight.

Often groups sail almost by themselves, with perhaps a facilitator, leader, or supervisor on watch. When there is little tension, one can lead passively by making sparse but meaningful comments, by writing summary notes on a screen or flipchart for all to see, or by simply being present and providing security.

When wind and waves are turbulent and quickly changing, when there is tension, the group leader needs to be more active and hold the tiller tight.

Practical Tip: As a group leader or facilitator, steer no more than necessary. Trim the group according to wind (group energy) and direction of travel (desired outcomes) and keep a light hand on the tiller; but never so light that it will get away from you if there’s a gust.

– Craig Freshley

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Name

Good Group Tips

In principle, to name is to understand. It’s huge. It is key to solving problems and resolving conflicts. When just the right words are used to name a situation, a perspective, a feeling, it can bring instant relief and instant forward progress. By leaps and bounds. Naming the problem is over half way to solving it.

Practical Tip: Name situations, perspectives, feelings; that is, describe them in ways that ring true. Do not avoid thinking about a hard problem or conflict; rather, think about how to think about the problem or conflict. Give it a name.

Name things without judgment. Name things out loud for others to agree or challenge. Name things with honesty and integrity, not to mislead. Be open to names suggested by others and open to re-naming.

– Craig Freshley

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