February, 2015

5 Ways to Doom a Work Group

Jan 2013 Portrait BWSometimes I watch a meeting of a work group and it seems like the leaders are trying to kill off the group.

Maybe they volunteered to organize the work group to tackle a difficult problem encountered by several agencies or to coordinate a joint effort like a neighborhood clean-up or community outreach campaign. They recruit people to participate and forge on with the best intentions. But then things disintegrate. Why would that happen?

Clearly, they’ve gone to the special workshop where they learned the five ways to doom a work group. Do you know them?

#1: Clearly designate some people as insiders and the rest as out of the loop.

#2: Spend no time preparing a decent agenda. The insiders will know what to talk about. The outsiders don’t matter.

#3: Have no supporting materials, hand-outs or distributed information of any kind.

#4: Use the same answer, variations on the theme “it can’t be done/we tried that before/they won’t let us,” over and over until people give up offering new ideas.

#5: Congratulate yourself on your tremendous progress and hard work.

These tried and true methods work every time. They inevitably lead to work group leaders bemoaning their lost membership and questioning people’s commitment to the cause. Soured on the work group experience, people run for cover the next time a call goes out for volunteers. A bad experience can influence people for a long time.

Like many dysfunctional things in nonprofit life, it doesn’t have to be this way. Work groups can be dynamic, energizing and very, very productive. Short-term focused problem-solving and action planning can be exhilarating but only if everyone at the table is welcomed, valued and expected to contribute.

That’s what I think based on 40 years of nonprofit experience. What do you think?





Bless the Can-Do Folks!

Heroes and villains. Saints and sinners. In my work, I run into all of those folks but today’s topic concerns another dichotomy: the can-doers and the ‘you can’t get there from here’ folks.

As a consultant, my work is about change. No one hires a consultant to maintain the status quo. They can do that on their own. So my mission always has to do with doing something new or doing something better.  This makes for exciting and very interesting work but it’s not without its difficulties.

Because I am a consultant on a temporary mission, I have to engage other people in the task at hand. Often this means suggesting to people who have done things in a particular way for a long time or those who’ve never done it but have an opinion none the less that they do something new or better.

Here’s where we meet two kinds of people. The can-doers are the ones who were waiting for someone to bring the secret code to unlocking the door to new ideas and they are ready to rock. They’re the ones in a meeting who are totally focused, intent on the topic, nodding and taking notes. They’re the students every instructor loves to have in class. All in and ready to one up the instructor. When that happens, when you’re the consultant and someone comes up with an even better idea because you created the environment for change, that’s even better than having the great idea yourself.

The flip side are the ‘you can’t get there from here’ folks. These folks are death to a dynamic group. Everything suggested has been tried before, is too expensive, would never be approved by management, is too much work, will take too much time, and, my favorite, will require hiring another consultant. The ‘you can’t get there from here’ folks, also known as YCGTFR’rs, can deflate and depress a group beyond recognition, leaving the consultant the only person in the room with new ideas.

So are these two dichotomous groups born or made? A topic for another blog.

Let me know what you think — ever run into these folks in your work?