Author: Craig Freshley

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

Good Group Tips

In principle, a look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, referred to as a SWOT analysis, is an effective way to take stock of an organization or project and the context it exists in. It is often done at the start of a strategic planning process. It provides a solid foundation to build plans on.

Practical Tip: Ask the opinion of all stakeholders or at least key stakeholders—those who stand to win and lose most from the endeavor.

Ask their opinion about strengths and weaknesses, the balance sheet, what’s good and bad about the organization or project. This is an internal, current look at things like financial gains and losses, assets and liabilities, staff capacity, board capacity, reputation, mission impact, etc. These are all things within our general control.

Also gather feedback on the external view, the look into the future. What opportunities and threats loom? This is a look at projected trends regarding market demand, supplies and personnel, policy and regulation, and other external factors that might affect the organization or project. To look at opportunities and threats is to assess things that we don’t fully control but that we need to consider.

Take stock of your organization or project by making four lists: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Discuss them as a group. Good assessment is key for good strategic planning.

– Craig Freshley

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Should facilitators make suggestions?

Excerpt from this video: “There are times when I think it’s perfectly appropriate and in fact extremely helpful to the group if the facilitator makes suggestions, makes proposals.”

What times? Craig explains in the video.

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.

There’s a school of thought out there that a neutral facilitator should never make any kind of suggestion when facilitating a group; that all proposals, all ideas, should come from members of the group and the facilitator just manages and, well, facilitates that. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought.

First of all, let’s take a look. I think there are three types of suggestions.

One type of suggestion is purely content. “Oh, you guys are talking about where to have your annual meeting? I know this place. It’s really great. And blah blah blah.” That is a content suggestion. I think that content suggestions, by and large, are off limits for neutral facilitators.

But there are two other kinds.

Another kind is what I would call a process suggestion. So maybe we’ve designed an agenda, we are working through a decision making process, and I have an idea of a process that might serve the group better. Process suggestions, I think, are perfectly fine for a group facilitator to make. That’s what the facilitator has been hired to do; manage the process. The facilitator should be always thinking about better processes and should make suggestions accordingly that will help the group.

There’s a third kind that’s kind of in the middle.

Maybe it’s a suggestion about content but it is based not on my personal knowledge, but on what I have learned from you just now in the meeting. And I tend to think that those types of suggestions are also okay if the facilitator is being absolutely truly neutral and if that suggestion is being made based on what he or she thinks will serve the group well. “Look, I’ve been listening to you talk for an hour; I have an idea for a solution that I think might serve you well.” I think that might be okay because the solution is based on what I’ve heard you say from my neutral point of view.

There are no hard and fast rules about this. Mostly it depends on the group culture and your agreement with that group on how you’ll behave as a neutral facilitator. But I am just pointing out that there are times when I think it’s perfectly appropriate and in fact extremely helpful to the group if the facilitator makes suggestions, makes proposals.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope this helps your group make good group decisions.

Different views

Good Group Tips

In principle, how things look depends on where you sit. It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, simply that the views are different.

In hierarchical relationships, the person or group at the top has a wider view than the people or groups below. The supervisor considers many things of relative importance at a high level. The subordinate considers fewer things in greater detail. Even though the views may seemingly disagree, each is doing their job, seeing things from their proper perspective.

In other relationships too, our viewpoints are different by design. Tension and initial disagreement are expected. Good group decisions result when we consider all the different views, work out the tension, and identify what’s best for the group as a whole.

Practical Tip: Rather than spend energy arguing which view is correct, assume that all views are correct. Use all available perspectives to better understand what you are looking at.

Ask group members to say how it is for them, how things look from where they sit. Ask people outside the group, “What does it look like from out there?” Listen without judgment.

If you are asked to give your view, offer it without expectation that it will prevail. Speak for yourself, from your own perspective. Humbly offer a piece of the puzzle to help create the larger picture.

– Craig Freshley

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Causes of conflict, and cures

Good Group Tips

In principle, the cause of most conflict is misunderstanding. The parties don’t have the same facts, same experience, same perspective, and don’t fully appreciate how someone else could see it differently.

A second cause of conflict is fundamental difference of values. This is where the parties understand the facts and each other but they simply have different values. For example, one person believes in Jesus as savior, another does not. Each person’s beliefs are deeply rooted and not easily changed.

Third, parties are in conflict because of some outside issue, something that has nothing to do with the immediate issue at hand. The conflict might be because of some incident between the parties that happened years ago and has never been dealt with or because of a mental disorder, an irrational fear, or an addiction that is influencing someone’s judgment or behavior. An outside issue is preventing one or more key people from seeing or acting clearly.

Practical Tip: When conflicts arise, work first to develop shared understanding. Talk, listen, express truth, learn, be open-minded, let go, ponder, talk some more.

If differing values are the cause, identify the values you have in common. Identify your common goals. See how you believe in similar things but have different ways of acting on them. Document and work on the things you agree on and let go of the rest, for now.

If a debilitating outside issue is at play, peace will only come about if the issue is dealt with. If it is your issue, deal with it, seek help, do the personal work. If the issue is not dealt with by the parties, an outside authority must be invoked to make and enforce a decision.


– Craig Freshley

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How to call on people

Is it best to call on hands in the order that they are raised? Maybe not.

In this video Craig explains the downsides of doing that and encourages alternatives.

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.

There’s a presumption in almost all meetings that the leader should call on people in the order that hands are raised. I’m here to tell you that is not necessarily the best way and that is certainly not the only way.

Here’s another way. Some groups have a rule; everybody gets a chance to speak once before anybody speaks twice. If that’s the case, I might not call on the first hand that I see. If that person has already spoken, I’m going to skip over them and I’m going to always be looking for new hands.

Another way is that I am intentionally looking for diversity of perspectives. This is over simplified but: a man speaks, the next hand I’m looking for is a woman. If three women in a row speak, the next hand that I’m looking for is a man. And even if two or three women put their hands up first, I might call on a man. As the leader I am actively managing the discussion and deliberately calling on people in a way different than whoever puts their hand up first.

Another way is: I might actually really know the people in my group. I know them pretty well. I can guess the kinds of things they’re likely to say and I intentionally call on people to build a thread; to build us toward a conclusion.

If you have an ethic of calling on hands in the order that they are raised no matter what, you are going to hear from the fastest thinkers and the boldest people. You are not necessarily going to hear the best ideas or a huge diversity of opinion.

So it depends on what you want. I’m simply reminding you that it doesn’t have to be just one way. Check that presumption — that we should absolutely call on hands in the order that they’re raised — and give yourself permission to do it differently.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope this helps your group make good decisions.

Three times considered

Good Group Tips

In principle, it works well when a group considers an issue three times before making a decision.

1. The first time raises notice and gets people to start thinking about the decision they are going to have to make.

2. The second time, we share information, share our interests, discuss “what if’s,” kick around some ideas, and perhaps develop some alternative approaches.

3. On the third consideration: decision.

Three considerations of any given issue is a satisfactory pace for most group members.

Practical Tip: When a new issue develops, formally introduce it to the group and be sure that group members know how to participate in the decision process. Give the issue or topic a name. Invite initial reactions. This is the first consideration.

Next, provide a time and place for information sharing, brainstorming, imagination, creativity, proposal development. This might be in a meeting of the full group or a committee meeting or perhaps a series of meetings. It can also happen via surveys or on-line collaboration. This is the second consideration.

Third, provide a time and place for final discussion and decision.

It is okay to be a bit pushy for a decision when the group has already considered the issue twice before. If the decision does not come easily on the third consideration at least decide how it is going to get decided.

– Craig Freshley

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Morality as agreed

Good Group Tips

In principle, if group members have not agreed to a particular morality or set of values, it is not okay to expect or impose that particular morality or set of values. People become uncomfortable when it feels like a specific moral code is being imposed without permission. Imposing morality creates enemies.

On the other hand, if your group has a moral code it is right to honor it. Speaking a certain morality without acting on it also creates enemies.

Practical Tip: Do not impose unwelcome morality. Act out agreed morality. Work to change group morality using agreed group processes.

For example, if a neighborhood association’s stated purpose and other governing documents say nothing of environmental values, group members should not impose environmental values as if they were group values. It is not okay to suggest that someone is being “anti-group” if they are being “anti-environment.” If you would like environmental values to become group values then work for that within the rules. Request discussion about it. Make a proposal. Practice environmental values in your own yard and in all ways that are not contrary to group decisions. But in the absence of stated group morality, it is not okay to behave as if such morality is shared by the group as a whole.

– Craig Freshley

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Hot hand

Good Group Tips

In principle, we each have our gifts. Some people are better at some things than others and we all have our good days and bad days. I know of a basketball coach who encourages his team to shoot around before every game and figure out who has the “hot hand”, who seems to be particularly gifted that day. Get the ball into the hands of that person, he encourages.

Practical Tip: For any given task on any given day, figure out who is most suited to lead. It could be anyone. If you are not the most able or not top-performing for whatever reasons, support someone who is.

Members of high-functioning groups are flexible and give the ball to whoever is most likely to succeed in the moment, regardless of prior established titles, positions, or plans.

– Craig Freshley

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Contain disagreement

Good Group Tips

In principle, when I disagree with someone’s particular idea or action it does not mean I have to disagree with them about everything. Using disagreement from one battle as ammunition for another battle works well if you want to perpetuate fighting. If you want to perpetuate peace, it works well to contain disagreement to the particular issue at hand. Peacemakers know how to respectfully disagree about one thing and at the same time work well together on another thing.

Practical Tip: Enter every discussion as a new discussion with a positive outlook and an open mind about your fellows, regardless of past or other present disagreements. Don’t hold grudges, seek revenge, or use a person’s stance on one issue as a weapon against them on another issue.

Just because I think your idea is wrong or your behavior is inappropriate does not mean I think you are a bad person; it just means that I disagree with that particular idea or behavior, that’s all. I am always willing to work with you, with an open mind and a positive attitude, to make the best decisions for our group.

– Craig Freshley

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High ground

Good Group Tips

In principle, groups often get bogged down in details (who should do what by when and how) and fail to stay on the high ground (strategic direction and guiding policies).

The group as a whole has the unique perspective of seeing all that the group is doing, all the opportunities, all the threats. It is a view from the hill top. An individual group member has the unique perspective of seeing the details on the ground and has the best sense of how to actually implement policies in the field.

Practical Tip: As a group responsible for establishing plans and policies, consider the big picture and make high-level decisions that guide implementation. Resist the temptation to dictate details. Encourage the group as a whole to stay on the high ground and trust individuals to handle the trenches.

– Craig Freshley

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