Author: Craig Freshley

Single-tasking

Good Group Tips

In principle, even though multi-tasking seems ever more popular, the fact remains that focusing on one goal at a time is the surest way to achieve them. Juggling many balls may appear impressive, but the more balls in the air the greater the chance of dropping one, or several. Groups are especially prone to failure when trying to do too many things at once, and especially prone to success when everyone is focused on a single task.

Of course, to focus on a single task the single task must be well defined. Many groups flounder because the participants are not clear on what they are supposed to be doing. Absent a well-defined problem to be solved or objective to be achieved, group members can’t be blamed for coloring outside the lines or getting off track. What lines? What track?

Practical tip: When you meet with others to make a decision, define the task at hand and then focus on achieving it. Resist the temptation to simultaneously check e-mail or have side conversations or view other screens or work on other projects. Even when bored or when you think you have nothing to contribute, meditate and search within for creative solutions. Listen to others for deep understanding. Quietly jot notes on how things could be better. Even though silent, there are many ways to contribute to the group task.

Discourage other group members from weaving in and out of participation, distracted by other things.

The magic of groups happens when several brains and hearts are focused on a single task. The frustration of groups happens when undefined or multiple tasks suck energy from singleness of purpose.

– Craig Freshley

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Best we could with what we had

In principle, it’s really good to be able to say, “We did the best we could with the time, tools and information that we had.” Notice the past tense. We DID something, even with limited resources. Many groups get stuck and fail to achieve anything because they don’t have enough time, tools, or information to make as good or as big a decision as they would like.

Actually, groups never have enough time, tools or information to make perfect decisions. The trick is to do the best you can with what you have rather than be stuck while waiting or wishing for more resources.

By the way, to do “the best we could” does not mean “the most we could.” Often, less is best. Doing our best is usually about quality, not quantity.

Practical Tip: If you start to fall short of a deadline, honor the deadline anyway, perhaps even with a lesser product or service. Pushing off a deadline once or twice for good reason is fine, but repeatedly missing deadlines to achieve perfection often just results in missed deadlines and stalled projects. Honoring deadlines with lesser achievements is at least progress in the right direction and helps us learn along the way.

When others fall short of deadlines or other expectations, give them a break. One’s ability to achieve is always related to one’s blessings and burdens. I once heard someone say, “My mom did the best she could with the tools and information that she had.”

– Craig Freshley

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Connections

Good Group Tips

In principle, the connections between us allow a group of us to make better decisions than any one of us could on our own. The connections between things have actual value and this is why the total value of things connected is often greater than the sum of the parts. New energy can be created, or unlocked, just by virtue of things being connected.

The concept is called synergy and it is at work behind the scenes wherever new things are created: new ideas, new plants and creatures, new decisions about our future.

It’s good to have stuff like buildings, roads and accessories but it’s the stuff between the stuff that dramatically adds value; our connections with each other.

Practical Tip: Focus on the relationships rather than on the material gains and losses. Buildings, roads and accessories are important but to make good decisions for our future we also need trust, predictable roles and shared values; the stuff of relationships.

Don’t burn bridges. Try not to even damage them. Better yet, maintain and strengthen them. I once heard a transportation commissioner say that any road is only as good as its worst bridge.

– Craig Freshley

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Available

Good Group Tips

In principle, issues that require decisions often come to us with little or no warning, when we are in the middle of something else. To be available is to be willing and able to instantly change priorities. To be available is to have a little excess capacity, a little down time in the schedule, a little gas in the tank. It is to be well-fed, well-rested, clear thinking, ready for anything.

Groups, managers, parents, and others who are always too busy and unavailable for unanticipated “stuff that comes up” are always on defense, always in crisis, often in emotional pain.

Practical Tip: When you make plans such as a work plan, a job description, a budget, or even just planning your day, leave room available for things you can’t anticipate. Resist the temptation to pack plans too full. Governments grow, in part, because when legislators see what looks like latent capacity — people sitting around — they rush to fill the void with additional responsibilities. Then when “stuff comes up” there is inadequate capacity so new spending is needed to build more capacity. Sometimes sitting around and being available is exactly what we want; think firefighters.

Plan to be available for things unplanned. Don’t hold to your plans no matter what. Be available to the people and things that are truly most important.

– Craig Freshley

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Brake in advance

Good Group Tips

In principle, when you have to stop or change course by a certain time or place, it helps to prepare in advance. The more momentum something has, the longer the stopping distance; the more preparation required.

In physics, momentum is mass times velocity. In groups, momentum is number of people times level of energy, such as enthusiasm or anger. A large group of fired-up people is simply unable to stop or change course quickly. And as any driver knows, if we try to stop or change course too quickly we can lose control with disastrous results.

Practical Tip: If you are the group facilitator or leader, give your group advance notice when approaching the end of a discussion or project, or when a policy change might be coming. Build in advance the expectation for stopping or changing at a certain time or place. Meeting agendas with times and project plans with dates serve this function well.

Of course braking in advance requires knowing in advance what’s coming. Establish and heed early warning signs. Groups appreciate regular updates on what lies ahead. Groups hate to make decisions without advance warning.

Braking in advance also requires good brakes, the most critical part of any moving object. The most important thing about learning how to ski fast is learning how to brake fast. In groups, good brakes are all about attitude; the ability of group members to be open-minded and flexible in light of new information or circumstances.

If you are part of a large group with much energy, throw your weight in the direction you would like to see things go yet calibrate your expectations to the group’s momentum.

– Craig Freshley

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Things undone

Good Group Tips

In principle, things are always undone; housecleaning, unpaid bills, pending repairs and amends. Most of us are uncomfortable when things are left untied yet group decision making is always untidy. Meetings never end having achieved everything that every participant wanted to get done.

In some cases, things undone can be so overwhelming, confusing and frustrating that it leads to destructive behavior or insanity.

Practical Tip: Rather than breed insanity, change your expectations. Don’t expect everything to be all wrapped up by the end of the meeting, the end of the day, or the end of the term. Don’t go into a meeting expecting resolution of every issue. Expect that things will be left undone and that’s okay.

If things undone are important, write them on a list or a plan. Attaching names and dates to things undone increase chances of achievement. It can bring peace to know that even though something is undone, there is a plan for doing it.

Do not criticize yourself for things undone if the reason is because you were doing more important things. Accept that life is tangle of untied strings; always will be. I have a friend who says with peaceful acceptance, “There will be dirty dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor on the day that I die.”

Did you do the important things? Did you move even a small amount in the right direction, regardless of what’s left lying around in a mess? Celebrate what you or your group gets done and be at peace with leaving things undone.

– Craig Freshley

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Trust takes over

Good Group Tips

In principle, when making good group decisions we try to get all the facts and fully understand before deciding. Yet it’s impossible to understand every detail, every nuance, every possibility, and that’s where trust takes over.

We work to understand as much as we can, but at some point we just need to trust our intuition, other people, and the process. It’s called faith.

For the rational person, the path to resolution is mostly paved with understanding, with a bit of trust at the end. The rational person wants as much evidence as possible. For the intuitive person, the path to resolution begins with a bit of understanding and then trust paves most of the rest of the way. Going mostly on gut feeling is very comfortable. For all of us, truly good decisions require some combination of understanding and trust.

Practical Tip: Work on both, understanding and trust. To understand: Gather the facts, hear all perspectives, review best practices, read, apply trial and error, listen to your heart. To build trust: Do things together, eat together, demonstrate honesty and dependability, support each other through hardships, tell stories, share pictures of your loved ones.

Answer as many questions as you can but at some point you have to decide even without every answer and it comes down to trust.

– Craig Freshley

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In-front-of messaging

Good Group Tips

In principle, when I talk in front of a group, even if my words are directed to an individual, I am sending multiple messages. Leaders, politicians especially, are acutely aware of who they are speaking in front of and often deliver messages designed to impact multiple groups and influence multiple issues.

When I look toward the back seat and ask my teenage daughter a question in front of her friends, I know that the answer she gives is mostly a message to her friends. When the diplomat speaks on television in front of the world her words are carefully crafted for multiple audiences.

Practical Tip: Don’t take everything you hear in public too seriously. Give public speakers some slack. Recognize that anyone talking in front of others is inclined to temper their words. As you evaluate any speaker’s words, consider whom they were spoken in front of.

Give people an opportunity to talk in front of others rather than directly to others. Group facilitators, moderators, and mediators play this role when we encourage participants to talk to us – explain your story, make your argument, whatever – in front of others. Many people are much more inclined to say their peace in front of their adversaries rather than directly to them.

Talking in-front-of is less effective than talking directly, yet more effective than not talking at all.

 

– Craig Freshley

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Reinterpretation

 Good Group Tips

In principle, every story is an interpretation. The storyteller always gets to decide how the story gets told. You might call it “spin” or “take on it.” And every story can be reinterpreted by the players who are in it and by those who hear or learn about it.

Reinterpreting our stories allows us to rewrite history and that can be a good thing.

Changing or ignoring the facts is never wise but looking at the facts in new ways, from new points of view, allows us to learn and understand and make peace with the facts.

Practical Tip: When in pain or conflict, as an individual or as a group, try to look at what happened in a new way. Accept the facts but consider multiple interpretations, other ways to look at it. Discuss with others. Learn to tell the story differently.

Reinterpreting our stories can bring peace.

– Craig Freshley

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Committees

Good Group Tips

In principle, not every task is best suited to the full group and not every topic is interesting to every group member. When groups establish committees — sub-groups of people focused on specific activities — it brings focused attention to issues, draws on the enthusiasm of those most interested, and frees the full group for higher level business.

Committee members often volunteer for service although they may be formally appointed by the full group, chair, or boss. Standing committees have ongoing, often annual, responsibilities such as an organization’s finance committee or program committee. Ad hoc committees are established for specific purposes and go out of business once the purpose is achieved. Ad hoc committees are often asked to research something and make recommendations.

Committees work best with written mandates and willing participants.

Practical Tip: When tasking a sub-group to do something, write a mandate. What are you asking the committee to do? What is within the scope of work and what is out of bounds? When do you expect to hear from the committee? Don’t shy from drafting a committee mandate on the spot in a group meeting for all to see, revise, and finalize.

In high functioning groups, committee membership and leadership is a thoughtful and controlled activity. Publicly calling for volunteer leadership or appointing a person to a committee who is out of the room rarely works well. Be thoughtful and strategic about identifying committee chairs and members; people who understand and believe in the mandate.