Author: Craig Freshley

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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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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A way to talk

Good Group Tips

In principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.

– Craig Freshley

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Hear, hear

Good Group Tips

In principle, groups can be very efficient when there is a culture of quick and visible agreement, like in the British Parliament when someone makes a statement and others yell, “hear, hear!” On the other hand, groups can be very inefficient when there is a culture of making points over and over in different ways with different nuances with additional tidbits of information.

Further, in group settings we are often quick to find fault and air concerns, a method of group critique that we often assume will result in a better end product. It is refreshing when critical comments get balanced with positive, encouraging shows of support.

Practical Tip: When someone says something you agree with, show it instantly with a “hear, hear” or at least a head nod. It is very useful for the whole group to see such cues. If your general view is expressed by someone else, restrain your need to present the view in a different way with a different spin with a few extra tidbits of information.

Encourage your group to adopt a “hear, hear” culture where members readily show their opinions to the whole group. Saying “hear, hear” is one way but variations include thumb signals, keypad voting, and standing line ups.

Instant, positive feedback. Hear hear!