Tag: Group decision making

Whole Picture in Brief

If you want a group to focus on the whole picture it helps to provide them with tools to see the whole picture. In this short video Craig explains how he condensed a complicated list of recommendations into a two-page paper “ballot” that group members could use to select their top priorities.

You might also like this video: How to get a group to cut down a list.


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 have been working with a group called the Casco Bay Nutrient Council. I’ve been helping them write this report. It contains all kinds of data and analysis about nutrient pollution in Casco Bay. It’s made up of regulators and scientists and public interest groups. And the report also contains lots of complex recommendations; in fact, the way it is right now, it contains too many recommendations. So we had a meeting to prioritize them and try to figure out what are the most important recommendations.

But I’ll tell you, to ask a group to analyze a report of this complexity and then try to come to consensus on what in this report is most important — that’s a tall order. If you want a group to go from a large complex report to a short list of high-priority things, give them a short list to start with.

What this is, is it’s a high-level overview of all the recommendations in the report, organized by topic and number. I would have to say that the highest value I added to that particular meeting was making this piece of paper. I teased out of this 78 page report a list of relatively manageable recommendations. And look at this, I not only numbered them, I provided some columns over here that we used for, well, ranked choice voting you might say.

Even though we might not have time to get to consensus on a short list of recommendations in the meeting, at least I can ask each person to show their preferences, turn them in, and we can analyze the data and start the next meeting with an even shorter list.

If you want a group to condense the big picture you got to show them the whole picture. If you want a group to stay on the high ground, you’ve got to cut out all the other stuff and give them just the high ground. I hope that this helps this group make good decisions and I hope it helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

If you could have a superpower

Superman (that would be Craig) demonstrates a quick, fun way to open meetings and help group members get to know each other!

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I am at Comic Con Boston and sometimes when I’m in a meeting, I do a fun little……..Can I ask you guys a question?

“Of course. Sure!”

Okay, sometimes when I’m in a meeting I ask a question as a warm-up exercise: “What kind of superhero would you like to be or what kind of superpower would you like to have?”

I’m going to ask some superheroes here. “If you could be in real life and have a superpower, what would it be? If there was, like, one thing that you would actually like to be able to do, what would it be?

Any answers?

The Flash: “I’d probably fly.”

Superman: “You’d like to fly?”

The Flash: “Yeah, for the freedom.”

Superman: “Yeah for the freedom!”

The Green Lantern: “I’d like to shoot spaghetti out of my finger tips.”

Superman: “Haha, nice! That’s a pretty good one. Any other answers? You sir?”

Unidentified Superhero: “Teleportation. It just works for everything.”

Superman: “Yeah, yeah, teleportation. It’s good for lots and lots of things.”

Batgirl: “Invisibility probably.”

Superman: “Like, maybe right now?”

Batgirl: “Yeah! Hahahaha. I’d be good with that.”

Superman: “And you?”

Supergirl: “Probably control time.”

Superman: “Control time……..And what would you do with it if you could control time?”

Supergirl: “Whatever I wanted. Hahaha”

Superman: “Exactly! Whatever you wanted.”

Superman: “Would you like to be part of this?”

Another unidentified Superhero: “Sure”

Superman: “If you could have a super power, what would you like to have?”

Unidentified Superhero: “Being able to transform into anything.”

Superman: “Tansform into anything. Nice. Okay. Hey thanks a lot guys. Thank you very much. Have a great time!”

Superheroes: “You too, thank you.”

So it’s a lot of fun when I’m in a meeting, I ask people to say their name and if they could have a superpower what would it be. Got some real answers right now on the spot, but you might try this in a meeting. And no matter how mundane your meeting might seem, you could instantly turn everyone into a superhero and have a super meeting!

Okay, I’m headed into the show with all the other superheroes. Thanks a lot, and here’s hoping that you help your group make good decisions.

And thanks to my nephew, Sam Nelson (aka Batman) for help making this video.

Tasks and Relationships

Some people are more focused on tasks and some people are more focused on relationships. In this video Craig explains how both are critical for making good group decisions. He also explains the difference between “task conflicts” and “relationship conflicts,” and how they should be handled differently.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley and I want to talk about tasks and relationships. Some people are more task-oriented, and some people are more relationship-oriented. It has to do with personality type. It also has to do with gender.

In fact this gal Deborah Tannen, in a 1990 book called You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, argues that men are more task-oriented and women are more relationship-oriented. Not a rule of thumb across the board, universally, but I think it is interesting to note, at least in my experience, that to make good group decisions you need both. You need folks who are task-oriented and who are relationship-oriented. If you set about making a decision and you are all about the task and willing to harm and sacrifice relationships to get the job done, you might get that job done but over the long run your group is going to suffer. You need relationships to carry you into the next decision. On the other hand if you make your decision and you are all concerned about the relationships, you might not get the task done or if you get it done it might not be done as well. I have worked with a lot of groups where honestly the people are, like, too nice to each other. They are so concerned with offending each other that their tasks suffer. So, I think that a balance is required.

And it’s also interesting to think that there are two different types of conflicts. There are task conflicts and relationship conflicts. Think of a task conflict as a difference of opinion on how something should be done. A relationship conflict is more of a disagreement about style, a personality type – those are the more difficult ones, actually, to work on. Task conflicts can generally be addressed in a group, with a good facilitator, professional people without relationship or emotional issues can disagree and – in healthy ways – work through conflict to get the task done. If you are in a relationship conflict with somebody, that is bigger than just one meeting. And it should not be attempted to be solved in a meeting or a group setting. Relationship conflicts, emotional conflicts are best solved through individual reflection and discernment and individual action, through one-on-one conversations, through counseling, mediation, getting help from professionals and support networks.

Look, I’m just trying to point out that there are two ways to look at things – through a lens of task focus, and relationship focus, and I’m also here to say that both are important. Just as it takes both a man and a woman to create a baby, it takes both task focus and relationship focus to create good group decisions. Thanks for listening and I hope that you help your group make good decisions.

Let people change plans

On a little footpath outside his local library, Craig explains how the library didn’t plan on making the path but they built it anyway. Because that’s what people wanted! And Craig explains how that was a good move. This video is all about giving ourselves permission to not plan too much and to change plans once they are made.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. This is my local library, one of my favorite places in town. I want to show you this path. Can you see this little path I’m walking along here? This didn’t use to be a path. In fact, when they first designed and built this library they didn’t plan on a path being right here. This whole little area along here – this was a little patch of lawn.

So, they had this piece of land here and I think the plan was that people would walk along the sidewalk, take a left and go into the library. But here’s what happened: after they opened the library, people walked here and it turned into an ugly dirt path because people didn’t want to walk all the way up and around the corner. Now, the library could have made a thing about this, they could have put a nice little sign here that said “Please keep off the lawn.” But they knew what would happen, people would still walk along this little path, because look – it’s a shorter way from here to there. They could have made a stronger sign, they could have said, “Keep off the lawn, police take notice.” People still would have walked here and it would have been an ugly dirt path. They could have put up a fence around this little grassed area to try and stop people from walking on the lawn.

But instead they decided to build a path and make it look nice. Do what the people wanted. It’s pretty cool and now it looks really nice and anybody who wants to take a little shortcut instead of going up to the corner and around has a beautiful little path to walk along.

So what does this have to do with good group decisions? Well for one thing, I am here to say that if you’re making plans and building stuff, go only as far as you absolutely have to. If you don’t have to put in the footpaths right from the get-go, don’t. Hold off and see what works best. There are a lot of things like that in a lot of the plans that we make. If stuff doesn’t have to be done right from the get-go, hold off and see how people use it, make adjustments along the way, leave things to the last moment as much as you can.

Another important principal at work here is: If you have to change the plan, do it. The most important thing is not ‘sticking to the plan’. It’s making things that are useful and that people enjoy. And that’s what they’ve done here at the library. They didn’t put up a fight about it. Instead they said, “Okay, that’s not going to hurt anybody. We’ll make that into a really nice path.”

So a couple lessons from the footpath at my local library. Thanks for letting me make this little video for you, and here’s hoping that you help your group make good decisions.

Everyone’s job is no one’s job

Want to make sure the job gets done? Don’t assign it to a lot of people!

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. If you’re part of a group and someone assigns general responsibility for getting a specific task done, chances are no one will take responsibility for getting that task done. And the larger the group – the bigger the number of people who are responsible – the more likelihood that no one will take responsibility.

For example, the boss at a staff meeting says something like, “Hey, we’ve got to respond to that letter from Mrs. Johnson. Let’s get that done by next week.” Meeting adjourns, a week goes by, and nobody responds to Mrs. Johnson. She tries it again: “Hey people, we’ve got to respond to Mrs. Johnson by Wednesday.” Wednesday comes and goes. No response. The boss is desperate now; she’s a little bit angry, and she sends one of those flaming emails to all the staff, to even a wider circle of people than she mentioned in the staff meeting: “Hey everybody, let’s get a response going to Mrs. Johnson!” The response doesn’t happen.

We know what’s going on among all the staff people: every one of them is busy and because she sent it to so many people every one of them thinks, “Somebody else will take care of this, and besides, I’m not the best person to make this response, that’s more Cheryl’s expertise.” Or, “Bill is the one that had a conversation with Mrs. Johnson last month, he should be the one to do it.” It’s very easy for every one of the people on that email list to make excuses for not getting it done. And by the way, if and when the reprimand comes (“Hey, nobody got this done!”), I feel one twentieth of that reprimand if I’m in a group of twenty people.

It’s like with the office fridge in the break room. When we’re all responsible for keeping that fridge clean, chances are no one will be responsible.

So what’s the take-away from this? Name specific responsibilities. If you’re the manager and the office fridge is under your jurisdiction, set up a schedule, have some accountability, identify specific responsibilities. The letter that needs to be replied to? Name somebody or call for a volunteer. Tasks without specific names next to them often don’t get done.

Now I’m all for collaboration, you know, maybe the fridge should be a group effort, or maybe writing that letter to Mrs. Johnson should be a group effort. Okay, fine, but name a lead responsibility, name a single person who I as the boss can go to a week from now and say, “Hey, did you get that letter written?” and if they didn’t, “What help do you need writing it? What are the barriers?” At least I’ve got someone to work with on making the task happen.

Alright, that’s today’s video tip for y’all. Thanks for listening, and I hope you help your group make good decisions.

Find what makes you great

Thank you! In this video Craig says thank you to everyone who provided feedback in a recent survey, shares his gratitude for the work he is able to do, and offers his hope that you too can find a way to make a living at the intersection of your passions and your skills.


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. Yesterday we ran a little survey on email and social media. We asked a single question about whether our clients would recommend me to a colleague or friend. We also provided a little text box for people to write in whatever comments they wanted.

The responses have been overwhelming. We got a ton of replies in just 24 hours and a lot of you took the time to write some comments. Thank you. I know that there are people watching this video who probably did our survey, and maybe wrote some of these comments, and they are awesome!

In a moment I’m going to explain to you the connection between these comments and this chart. But first, I’ve got to read some of these to you:

“Craig, so glad you are doing this important work. We all need skills to work together, understand each other better, and make progress together. Thank you.”

I love this next one because this one talks about a balance that I totally strive for in all of my meetings. This person wrote:

“Just the right amount of gravity and levity, direction and spontaneity, giving and receiving.”

Here’s another one:

“You are a very motivating speaker and have a good heart. What’s not to like about you and your work?”

These comments just didn’t happen. They happened because I have worked hard to find the intersection between these three things [our passions, what we’re good at, what brings resources]. These three things were developed by a guy named Jim Collins. He wrote a book called Good To Great. In the book he talks about what makes a company great as opposed to what makes a company good. Now if you go looking for this book, it has a red cover, okay? Mine has been bleached by the sun! If you’re not in a company but maybe you work for a nonprofit or a government, Jim has written a little companion monograph called Good to Great and the Social Sectors. In both of these books, he says that what distinguishes great institutions, whatever type they are, is that they have found the intersection between what they are passionate about, what they are good at, and what they can make money at – or if you’re in the nonprofit sector, what brings in the resources.

I feel so blessed to have found this for myself. I love helping groups make good decisions. I get up early every morning, usually pretty excited to start my day and I just feel so grateful to do the things that I do in my job. Not only that, I have figured out that I’m good at this. Look, we all have skills. Those of you watching: every single one of you has skills. You’re good at something that I’m not good at. I’m good at facilitating meetings. I happen to have those skills and it happens to match my passion.

Not only that, I figured out a way to make money at this. The intersection of my passion and my skills is something that people are willing to pay for. There is a match between these two things and the market, and I have figured out how to take my skills and my passion to market in a way that I can make a living for myself. And, I get awesome compliments like these!

My hope for you is that you can find the intersection of these three things for yourself and for your group, and that you can feel the sense of gratitude that I feel right now.

That’s my hope for you. Thanks for listening.

Robert’s Rules of Order – Key Principles Explained

On the floor of the Maine House of Representatives, Craig pulls out his cell phone and makes a video about Robert’s Rules of Order: “this country’s recognized guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings.”  While complicated and intimidating to many, Craig explains how the spirit of Robert’s Rules is really great and highly useful.

And here is a link to a summary of Guidelines and Rules.


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi it’s Craig Freshley, and I am here at the Maine State Legislature. This is the House of Representatives. Maine has both the House and the Senate and right now I am in the House Chamber.

I was here for a meeting this morning and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to talk about Roberts Rules of Order. Here it is, you can see the book on the desk. Now Roberts rules of order is, well, let me read you right from the back of the book. Here’s what it says. It is “this country’s recognized guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings.” In fact, this is the guide that is used by many legislatures across the country. It’s also used by unions, boards, and all different kinds of organizations. It is widely recognized as the “go to” procedure for majority rule decision-making.

But look at this book! It is very complicated set of procedures. Now they have tried to make it a little bit more simple by putting some handy tables here at the back of the book to show you the order of motions and priorities and all that kind of thing, but it can still be pretty daunting for an amateur group or even a professional group to figure out how to use Roberts Rules of Order. Over here I’ve got a simplified version.This is called Roberts Rules of Order – The Modern Addition. And it is a simplified updated version of the classic manual of parliamentary procedure.

Let me just share about Parliamentary procedure in general. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And in fact, Roberts Rules of Order has embedded in that complicated book, some pretty nifty principles. I want to share some of them with you.

First of all let’s remember that parliamentary procedure in general and Roberts Rules of Order in particular exists to try and help groups make good decisions. It’s intention is to try and make meetings more smooth and easy, not inhibit decisions or inhibit the process. Now a lot of times you run into a situation where one person in the meeting knows Roberts Rules of Order way better than anybody else in the meeting and uses Roberts Rules of Order – uses their knowledge of Roberts Rules of Order — to get their way. That is not within the spirit of Roberts Rules of Order. The idea is that it’s supposed to make things easier and honestly, fair.

Let me show you a couple other principles according to Roberts Rules or most parliamentary procedures. All the members have equal rights and privileges. Now the majority decides, but the minority always has certain rights which the majority has an obligation to protect.

Another sort of basic tenant of Roberts Rules is that there is only one question considered at a time. This is pretty good rule for any group to follow: talk about one thing at a time, know what you’re talking about and in fact, whoever is presiding over the meeting, they’re the person that above and beyond anything else that they do, they should be able to know where we are in the meeting; what is the single question on the table being discussed.

Members have a right to know at all times what the immediately pending question is and to have it restated before a vote is taken. No member can speak until recognized by the chair. No one can speak a second time on the same question as long as another wants to speak first. These are pretty good rules! They’re kind of buried in that book on the desk, but they make a lot of sense for any group.

And lastly it says here, the chair should be strictly impartial. Now if you have listened to any of my other videos or read any of my other stuff, you know that I’m a big believer in impartial facilitation and that concept is embedded right here in Roberts Rules of Order.

Now I want to show you one thing in particular out of this book. It’s stated right on page 9 and it points out that even though this is a complicated set of rules, it doesn’t have to apply to every group all the time. In fact it says right here on page 9: in organizations that have a dozen or fewer people you can kind’ve translate the rules loosely. Follow the spirit of Roberts Rules; don’t get too caught up in the letter of the whole thing.

I want to just give a little shout out here to my friend in Lewiston. Kathy Montejo is the Clerk of the City of Lewiston and she does trainings here in our state of Maine about Roberts Rules of Order and it is from her that I learned that this book is really pretty cool. It’s large and complicated and hard to understand all the details, but the spirit of it in my opinion is right on the mark for helping groups make good decisions.

I want to read one more thing here written by Major Henry Robert himself. He said that, “the object of the book is to assist an assembly to accomplish the work of the group for which it was designed in the best possible manner. To do this, it is necessary to restrain the individual somewhat, as the right of an individual in any community to do what he pleases is incompatible with the interests of the whole.” I so believe that today just the way he believed it when he wrote it; that when we make good group decisions we have to relinquish some individual rights for the rights of the group as a whole. We see that happen all the time right in this legislative body behind me and I am encouraging you to have that ethic in your group.

You don’t have to follow Roberts Rules of Order to a T, but to follow the spirit of Roberts Rules of Order will help your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.Signing off from the State of Maine House of Representatives.