Making Working Groups....Work - Part 2

In the last newsletter we talked about the best approach to making real progress with special purpose working groups...ones that often don't work well together. To recap, we discussed taking the first meeting through a deliberate approach, that carefully builds from context to mandate to priorities to real content. See the whole newsletter here. I talked about building the context and mandate of every working group. This month we will focus on priorities and real content...and ultimately action.

Pushing this kind of group into real action within the first two meetings, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of the positive kind. Based on the common assumption that most people have low expectations of the group and its ability to accomplish get stuff done, showing the participants some early wins will encourage more productive and cooperative behaviour...leading to a more effective group.

Carrying on from our theme from last month, we are following a very deliberate building process in our agenda. With our mandate, powers, working agreements and team norm agreed to, we now turn our focus to defining a universe of issues that our working group will consider. Remember, we are building consensus slowly and carefully. Begin by working the team through the following questions:

  • What specific issues are clearly out of scope for our group?
  • What specific issues may be assumed to be within the scope of our mandate, but should be excluded?
  • What general areas should be included in the scope of issues that we will address?

With these steps completed, break into small groups to determine the specific issues that you think fall within the mandate of the working group.

Once you have consensus at a small group level, have each group own and present their priorities, then work with the big group to prioritize the overall list of issues. You will be surprised at how easy it is to get all the individual opinions on the table and refine your list to 10 or so of the overall group's top priorities. The key is that you follow all the steps outlined without simply skipping to this step. Be patient; build on the groundwork you have completed.

With a list of the top 10 priorities to be addressed by the team, the group should identify and scope out their top 2 or 3 priorities. To ensure success here, identify a champion to lead the discussion for those same top priorities. This not only encourages ownership and engagement, but it makes for better solutions to the issues being discussed. You don't need comprehensive solutions for the top 3 issues in the first meeting. You simply need to get priorities on the table, and the group interacting and working toward common solutions. That's the real reason they are together.

So, to summarize the steps:

  1. Identify which issues are to be included in and excluded from the scope of the group's mandate. Include opinions and assumptions.
  2. Boil these down to specifics.
  3. Break into small groups to identify 3 priorities.
  4. Combine small group priorities to create a list for the large group.
  5. Use a group "champion" to lead the fleshing out of Top 3 priorities.

With the group actually working together, the key to building momentum is deliberate and effective follow up. At a later date, we will explore how Communities of Practice are an ideal forum to drive action between meetings.