Great Work Groups are Made, Not Born

Jan Portrait 3 (2)

Last week, I gave you 5 Ways to Doom a Work Group. Today, let’s look at how to make a work group thrive.

One overarching thought: work groups require good staffing to be productive. In other words, unless a work group is comprised of exceptionally committed people, it is unlikely to get traction and make good progress without a lot of in-between work. Generally, not always, that in-between work is done by paid staff. Happily, that is often me so I don’t complain about this.

Just having a group meet every month without the in-between heavy lifting will result in minimal progress, circular conversations and high attrition. If a work group isn’t making progress, the smart people leave, no matter how nice the other work group members are or how tasty the donuts. This is just how it works in life. Successful people put their time where results can be achieved.

Want your work group to be a beacon of success in a sea of floundering? Here’s how:

#1:  Balance having an open door for volunteers with getting the specific people you need to get work done. I hate to exclude enthusiastic people from a work group but I also hate spending weeks on learning curve issues. How to overcome this? Balance. Go recruit who you need to make a work group function well and then fill in with volunteers.

#2: Begin the work with a clear statement of what needs to be done. Work groups don’t necessarily have the right of self-determination. Usually they were formed at the behest of a larger organization or coalition and when they were formed, there was a specific reason. If I’m forming a work group, I like to start off with a written scope of work. Even if the group adjusts it, a scope of work sets an expectation for the group. We’re here to do some very specific things.

#3: Organize the work around decisions that need to be made. A decision-focused agenda does a couple of important things. First, it improves attendance. People don’t want to miss a meeting where a decision will be made. Second, decisions are cumulative, one leads to another, one brick on top of another until the entire house is built. Third, a decision culture prevents circling back. We already decided that!

#4: Be joyful about being together and making progress. Not everything about work and professional life needs to be such a dreadful chore. There’s a reason why the people you are working with do the work they do. Remind them of that core purpose or help them remind themselves. Make working together to slay a difficult dragon a cause for celebration. Compliment your group and make sure it gets the credit it deserves with the organization or coalition that created it.

#5: Know when to quit. A work group is a vehicle for getting something done. It is not the United States Senate or the Catholic Church. It does not have to last forever. Once its task is done, a work group does not have to cast about to find a new task. It should disband. A new work group can form when there is a pressing need.

Organizing great work groups is a science and an art. It’s also fun and terrifically energizing.

Try out these strategies and let me know how it goes.