By J Wilberg
A problem comes up. A work group gets formed. The work group meets and talks about the problem. The work group adjourns and returns the next week and starts over. Again and again, the work group gathers, chats, adjourns, and returns until someone has the temerity to say, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere here.
How many dozens of times have you been in a work group like this where a) you can’t afford not to attend because there is an off chance something important may happen; and b) the meetings are the ultimate Ground Hog Day experience with no progress and no product.
How to stop this complete waste of everyone’s time?
1. Make a list of decisions that need to be made. The quickest way to do this is with a traditional brainstorming/issue voting process: Each person makes his/her own list of three major decisions. Those are posted or written on large sheets of paper (sticky notes can be very helpful here). The list is discussed by the group. Then each person gets three votes (not all three can be used on the same item) to select priorities. The vote is tallied. Voila! Your list of decisions to be made magically appears!
2. Stick to the decision list. Treat the decision list as if it is a holy document. The list becomes your agenda for your next meeting. “At our next meeting, we will tackle decision items #3, 4, and 5 so be prepared to resolve those items at that time.” Use the decision list as the organizing framework for the work group’s efforts, measure progress against the list, and organizing reports to the sponsoring entity using the list.
3. Prohibit backward motion. We’ve all seen it happen. A work group labors for months to make progress and then someone new comes to a meeting and wants to start at Point A. Very often, because people are basically nice and want to be inclusive, a work group will allow itself to be taken back to the train station. To avoid that, practice saying, “We’ve discussed that. This was our decision and we’re now working on decision items #3, 4, and 5. In other words, there is no going backward, only going forward. Of course, if there is something alarmingly wrong with the first decision, the group ought to revisit it but barring that, full steam ahead at all times.
4. Write everything down. There is great power in the written document. Having agreed-upon decisions written down and distributed at the next meeting reminds people that those discussion on those items is done and no longer open to debate. I call this consolidation of gains. This is how traction occurs: by consolidating the gains (decisions made) at the last meeting and pulling people’s attention to the next set of decisions.
This approach requires that someone in the group is able to take charge. If there is an appointed chairperson who can’t seem to lead the group toward progress, then some of the members might have to gently offer to create a work group charge using the decision list model. Often, the chairperson will be grateful for the assistance.
This method has worked for me many times. Let me know if it’s helpful for you.