25 Characteristics of Effective Groups

Are you in an Effective Group?

You know whether you are in effective small groups or not.  Am I right?

Recently, I changed Sunday School classes. The people in my previous class are really nice people. However the group rarely got into its Bible lesson without getting sidetracked by current events or politics. Some people were getting hurt by not agreeing with the majority view – others stopped attending. I simply grew frustrated. I was feeling that I was being held captive to someone’s rants or raves. It was not why I was there!

Can you identify with my experience? Sadly, many Christians do not feel that they’re a part of effective groups. Groups come in many forms – small groups for study or fellowship, a ministry team or a leadership Council. There are things that you can do to ensure your groups are effective.

How would you rate your group?

Think of groups to which you currently belong. Review this list of characteristics. It should be a group that meets regularly and has a clearly defined role. For each characteristic, rate your groups by circling a number at the end of the characteristic.

Key:    1=not really      5=so-so    10=on target

  1. Everyone arrives and leaves on time                            1     5     10
  2. Our leader is trained and effective                                 1     5     10
  3. Our group has a clearly defined purpose                     1     5     10
  4. All members participate                                                     1     5     10
  5. We communicate clearly and directly                          1     5     10
  6. Our discussions are focused and productive             1     5     10
  7. We don’t judge but seek to understand                       1     5     10
  8. We periodically evaluate how we are doing               1     5     10
  9. We have a set goal or agenda when we meet             1     5     10
  10. We pray for one another rather than prey                  1     5     10
  11. Our group accomplishes it’s goals                                 1     5     10
  12. We make decisions by consensus                                   1     5     10
  13. We all feel responsible for the group’s success        1     5     10
  14. We deal with conflict in a timely manner                   1     5     10
  15. We have a shared vision                                                      1      5     10
  16. Our group is growing as a team                                       1     5     10
  17. We do not pre-judge one another                                   1     5     10
  18. We value differences                                                             1     5     10
  19. We seek clarity not rambling                                            1     5     10
  20. No one dominates discussion                                           1     5     10
  21. We share information related to our task                   1     5     10
  22. We avoid group think or giving in to appease           1     5     10
  23. We use “I” statements                                                         1     5     10
  24. We test assumptions before making decisions         1     5     10
  25. We practice courteous communication practices    1     5     10

Tally up your score.

Look over your responses carefully.  Which column has the most circles?  Which has the least?  What does this tell you about your group? What are some specific ways your group can improve?

Conclusion

Being part of a group should be a good experience.  We have simply too many demands on our time to waste in a group that is not effective. I encourage you to not accept an under performing group. After you have analysed the group’s life talk to others about whether they share your concerns. You are unlikely to be alone in your thoughts. Then work out together what can be done to address each of the low scores. You don’t have to fix them all at once – but do make a start.

When to use a facilitator

Situations that deserve a third party facilitator

Determining when you need a neutral third party facilitator is an important leadership task.  In times of transition or in situations where the stakes are high, inviting a third party to facilitate a process with your group can make a positive difference.  Facilitators can model the skillsets necessary for your group to improve their interactions with one another.

If you recognize any of these situations in your organization, you may need the services of a third party:

  • Emotional level between parties is high with anger and frustration
  • Communication is poor
  • Stereotypical views of positions and motives are preventing resolution
  • Behavior is negative
  • Conflict is at a high level
  • Parties cannot agree on what information is relevant or required
  • Various issues are present or the matter is complex
  • Values differ greatly and parties disagree on what is fundamentally right
  • The task before you make you realise that “this is beyond us”

What is a third party facilitator?

A third party is a trained leader who is recognized for their ability to work well with a group. They get results.  Examples of a third party leader may be a Mediator, Litigator, or Process Facilitator.  They have usually been certified or have completed a training program.  Most important, they have the experience necessary to lead your group through a situation successfully.

Questions for Consideration:

  • Does the person have the skills necessary to help move your group forward?
  • Where were they trained? When?
  • Can the third party provide references from past work?
  • Are they available to work with you on your schedule?
  • Is their personality a good fit for your group?

How can I find a third party facilitator?

Locating someone who has the skills your group needs is important. Ask your peers who they have used in a similar situation.  Authors of books can also make an excellent resource. You can also find the right person on the internet by researching blogs, articles, and events related to your issue or need.

Hiring a third party facilitator

  1. Form a Hiring Team with the responsibility to come up with a recommendation.
  2. Find at least three people who meet the skills you are looking for in a third party.
  3. Contact each person and explain the situation your organization is facing. Let them know that they have been recommended to you and ask if they are interested in working with your group. Answer their questions.
  4. Ask them if they are interested in making a proposal for consideration of services. Be sure that they outline their approach and provide a cost for their services. Ask them to list 2-3 references.
  5. Once you receive their proposals, have your hiring team review them. Sort the applicants into first, second and third. Check references.
  6. Arrange an interview with those your Hiring Team thinks are worth talking to in detail. Decide a clear choice.
  7. Present your top choice to your leaders for their support.
  8. Contract the work and set the timeline and budget.

Conclusion

Leaders who decide hire a Third Party Facilitator to lead their group are smart. It is not possible for local leaders to be all things to all people. Choosing an effective third party frees you to participate in the process as well as learn new skills.  Follow the steps recommended in this blog to find the right person to do the work necessary to help your group resolve issues and move forward together. You will be glad you did!

 

 

 

12 ways to break an impasse in your group

What’s an Impasse?

 

An impasse can prevent your leaders from making an important decision in a timely way. Therefore being frozen – stuck in an impasse – can be detrimental to the very future of your organization.

In preparation for discerning the matter, presentations have been made outlining the situation and proposing a specific direction forward. Just when you think your organization is ready to decide the issue, the unfortunate occurs:  an impasse is reached. Another option has gathered support and the group is now split between the choices.  We call this situation an impasse.

An impasse is when there are two or more choices on the table and people are unable to choose one.  Yogi Bera once said when you come to a fork in the road:  take it.  This is disastrous advice!

Impasses can paralyze a group and prevent them from making decisions in a timely manner.  Sometimes this happens because two different options seem equally good.  An impasse may also occur because people have lobbied for support outside the meeting and people feel a sense of loyalty to key leaders and their ideas.  Miscommunication can also result in an impasse. When people are stuck and unable to embrace change, an impasse seems like standing still in a fork in the road.

Nevertheless, a decision is not going to be made unless you deal with the issues and feelings causing the impasse.

Basic Steps Forward

Here is a list of specific things that you can do to help your group move beyond an impasse to make a good decision.  Consider these steps the next time you find yourself in your organizational “fork in the road”:

  1. Break the key issue down into smaller parts. Flag the most difficult matters and reserve them for later.
  2. Ask the parties to share why a specific alternative is unacceptable to them.  Draw the conversation to the big picture – the goals and away from the detail – strategy / methods. Then, ask people what they like about an idea before them.
  3. Look for creative options that may arise. When people focus on a goal they can see many ways to achieve them. Creative ideas come from looking first at the main goal.
  4. Listen carefully for assumptions not based on fact and point them out.
  5. Once ideas and accurate information are out in the open be prepared to take a break. Ask the parties to use the break to think about the various alternatives presented.
  6. Reconvene and review the parties’ priorities and common interests. List them on newsprint for the group to refer to as they make their final decision.
  7. Recognising common ground really helps bring people together when they might otherwise see each other as opponents.
  8. Encourage the parties to recognize and acknowledge each other’s points of view.
  9. Ask the parties for their help to move forward. What would make it possible for them to make a decision? What are they willing to give up for the good of the entire community?  Look at the impact of various solutions on all involved.
  10. Ask the parties to indicate what would change or happen if they reached a solution.  This is an opportunity for people to share their feelings.  Make sure this is a safe experience. Encourage people to use “I” statements and be respectful.
  11. In serious stalemates, offer the parties mediation, as opposed to letting the conflict fester and grow.  Use a trained facilitator.  Help people to not take the matter personally.
  12. Choose a way forward.  Be sure to thank people for their hard work and diligence.  Let them know that they have modeled the very best witness to others in facing their differences.

What to do when you break an impasse?

Remember that there are people who are affected by the decision that did not make it. So make sure that you promptly, clearly and pastorally communicate the decision to the wider community. Be quick and try to keep ahead of the rumour mill!

Not everyone who was stuck in the impasse has had the benefit of the process that made it possible for others to move. Think about how it is possible to share that journey with others. This can make  it possible for them to take the emotional and intellectual steps through the impasse.

Celebrate. People have worked hard, respected their community and sought to be faithful. Give thanks.

Conclusion

An impasse does not have to divide your faith community!  With proper leadership and a clear process, it can be a situation that reminds your group of their values and help them reclaim them. Groups can emerge from an impasse stronger and in the future be better equiped to make good decisions in a timely manner.

Alternatives to Voting

Is there another way to make a decision besides voting all the time?

Yes!  there are other ways to make a decision besides voting. Voting tends to create winners and losers. Sometimes people get their feelings hurt when their idea is not accepted by others. Try some of these other methods the next time you have an important matter to decide:

Alternative Ways to Come to a Conclusion

  1. Compromise: This method works best when there are 2 clear choices neither of which thrills everyone. In this approach, each party gives a little to the other to make the issue easier to work through together. Compromise works best when people need a relatively quick resolution, the stakes are not very high, and people are willing to trade off some of their interests for the sake of the group. Voting in this context has the potential to create an enduring division.
  2. Thinking it through as a group: This approach works well when people are willing to give the time to discuss a matter thoroughly in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution. It takes a lot of listening and creativity to find an answer where most people feel comfortable.
  3. Colored Cards:  Try this approach the next time there is an important matter before your group.  Distribute 2 colored cards to each individual: orange for warm, and blue for cool.  Allow time for individuals and groups to give a short presentation on their resolution to the issue, and for the group to ask questions to be sure they understand the proposal.  After each presentation ask the group to raise a colored card to indicate if they are warm or cool to the idea that has been suggested. This is not “yes” or “no”. Rather it is providing an opportunity to be more nuanced. Help people to share what is positive about the proposal from their point of view or where they see a need to change it to make it more acceptable to them. Keep doing this approach until the idea with the highest level of support is identified.matter is decided. Encourage people to have fun with the process and focus on the idea and not the individual making the point. Be very careful not to turn the colored cards into voting cards!
  4. Standing Aside:  This approach works well when the group does not come to a clear consensus yet has a developed view on a clear way forward. Ask people if they are willing to step aside for the good of the group when it becomes clear that one answer is gaining support.
  5. One Person Decides: Try this approach the next time you are making a decision and the group seems stuck and unable to make a decision. Identify a person that the group trusts and respects; or a person with expertise on the topic and agree to let them make the decision. This is like when an arbitrator is used in settling, say, commercial, disputes. This method works well when the issue before the body is not really important, or when people accept that they do not have the expertise to make the decision themselves. However, be sure to allow plenty of time for group discussion and questions first.
  6. Show of Support: Ok, this method is really a vote, but because it is done at the same time the group makes a decision together. This approach works well when you are trying to prioritise 2-3 ideas from a list. Ask the group to brainstorm ideas to resolve a challenge. List the ideas by title on a sheet of newsprint. When all the ideas are listed and explained give everyone 5 colored dots. Invite the group to come to the idea sheet and spend their dots any way they choose. They may place 5 dots on one idea or spread them out over several ideas they like. Count the dots and circle the number of support for each title. The ones with the most support get done.
  7. Spontaneous Agreement: This approach works well after a full discussion of a choice is accomplished and the matter before the group has full support. To be sure, these times are rare but they do happen. It is most helpful when there is a feeling that the entire group backs an answer. Ask: “Is there anyone against our following this solution to our problem?” Invite people to share their perspective, then repeat the question to gauge if there is full support.

Don’t Give Up!

There are alternative ways to make a decision that do not have to divide your group. Always have a full discussion of the merits of an idea before making a decision. Encourage your leaders to practice good listening. Answer all questions carefully when raised. Finally, let people know when decisions are not final. They can always evaluate a situation later and fine-tune their options until they feel satisfied with the results.

Fruit of the Spirit Supports Consensus

Consensus and Choices

Consensus is hard work – it demands that we make choices as a faith community.  Yogi Bera, the Baseball Commissioner in the US, once jokingly said:  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”  As ridiculous as it sounds, churches often make the mistake of merging opposing choices to try and keep the peace.  This rarely satisfies anyone. Moreover, this approach can actually cause frustration that results in fights and uncivil behavior.

Galatians 5: Fruit of the Spirit

Paul understood that they way people treat one another often places them in a position to make good or bad decisions.  Think back to the last major decisions you faced.  Was it a good experience?  How did people treat one another during the process?

“But what happens when we live God’s way?  He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others (love), exuberance about life (joy), serenity (peace).  We develop a willingness to stick with things (forbearance), a sense of compassion of the heart (kindness), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (goodness).  We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (faithfulness), not needing to force our way in life (gentleness), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (self-control).        [The Message and NIV versions]

These are often called the Fruit of the Spirit.  The believer who walks in the Spirit of God does not need a system of laws to produce the right behavior – they rise from within. Jesus told us before he ascended to the Father that he would send us the Spirit to help us live together in community.

Carefully read the 3 categories of these gifts defined below.  Which is easy for you?  Which is harder to accomplish?

Inner Qualities that reflect our relationship to God

The first three fruit (love, joy and peace) have to do with our relationship with God.  Love nurtures an obedience and willingness to serve God before all else.  Joy provides a deep sense of well-being that all is well in God and that the joy of the Lord is our strength.  Peace comes from being right with God – it reminds that God is in control.

REFLECTION:  When you make decisions, how do you live out of these qualities? What practices are a part of your process that acknowledges God and God’s will? How does your method of making decisions take God’s will into consideration?

The Christian’s attitude toward others

The next 3 fruit help us properly focus our attitude toward others.  Often when we are in the heat of a decision, there is a risk of treating others who disagree with you as being wrong or the enemy.  This should never happen.  Consider the true meaning of the next three qualities:

Patience is being tolerant of others even to the point of enduring pain inflicted by them.  It is a calm willingness to accept situations that are irritating or painful.

Kindness is being decent to others – being humane toward others. Especially people different from you.  Not remaining silent in the face of a wrong, really matters; allowing God to use you to make things better is important.  Kindness stands ready to forgive.

Goodness is often called generosity.  It is a moral and spiritual excellence in doing good for others.  think of it as allowing GOd’s grace to pass through you to others so God gets the glory.

REFLECTION: How would you rate your treatment of others who think differently from you?  How do you live out these qualities in the way you listen to another perspective or proposal?  Would you say that God is glorified in the conversations and interactions of people when they gather to make decisions or is more like a power play or competition?

Living out our Christian Calling

The last three Fruit of the Spirit guides how we live out our Christian calling with one another.  Faithfulness is being loyal and trustworthy to God’s best.  It is believing that God has a higher purpose. Gentleness causes us to be humble and work for God’s best in us.  Self-Control is often misunderstood to mean controlling how things turn out so that our choice prevails. Rather, it is restraining anything in us that prevents us from following God whole heartedly.  Sometimes this means that we act in ways that leave us open to fresh perspectives and options to the decisions we face.

REFLECTION: How do people in your congregation or organization live out their calling when making decisions?  Do you seek God’s will together or does your process cause a ‘free-for-all’ of clashing wills and agendas?  How might you foster these fruit in your group?

Ways to use this material

Galatians 5 makes a good study for leadership groups and decision-makers.  Consider ways to keep this material before people such as Devotions, Preaching series, or as an Evaluation tool.

Conclusion

We can learn several things from this Bible passage:

  1.  The Holy Spirit is our Sustainer, Guide and Counselor whose presence makes a real difference in how we live in community and approach decisions.  The Spirit helps us to be in tune with God’s purpose for our lives and religious groups.
  2. We are not perfect! We are all a work in progress – Methodists call it ‘moving on to perfection’. Do not get frustrated or impatient with yourself or others. Strive to let God dwell in you so you are more in God’s image.
  3. The Fruit of the Spirit is not a gauge to judge one other or put others down.  How we live out these fruit in unique although there are common traits.
  4. When people see these fruit in us – they want to come to Christ! People are turned off by infighting and a lackluster witness of how Christians work together to make decisions.  Is God glorified when they see your actions and hear your words?

May God’s fruit dwell in you and be evident when you make your next decision.