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.

What’s wrong with the way we make decisions?

Recall some recent decision points

Think back to your last big church meeting decision. It may have been about building a new sanctuary, firing a youth worker or starting a second worship service. As you think back on the debates and discussions about that issue, which image below best describes your experience?

(a) A ‘shootout at the OK Corral because some members want to win at all costs; or
(b) A positive experience of Christians conferencing together to discern the will of God?

(a) A meeting where the lid is kept tightly tied down on creative options that have not been thought of first by a vocal leader; or
(b) A space where all feelings, hopes and ideas are encouraged to come forward?

(a) A discussion dominated by a few articulate, domineering people; or
(b) A meeting where all voices are empowered, listened to and respected?

What happened at the time?

Perhaps a reasonable solution was offered to resolve a matter. Yet someone blocked its consideration with a passionate battle cry of “not in my church!” Then the meeting ground to a halt.

A crucial issue is addressed. However its discovered that the final decision was made in the parking lot after the official meeting ended.

Situations like these, which undermine true community, highlight unhealthy patterns in religious organisations.  Have you experienced that it’s not what we decide but how that makes the difference?

Churches are experiencing growing incivility as members engage with each other around matters about which they have very strong feelings. So we see people shout at each other, keep information secret, overgeneralize, and argue for their ‘side.’ Frequently it seems that there is little or no concern for the perspectives or feelings of others. Therefore churches lose valuable time and resources because of pervasive conflict. Is this your experience?

What is happening to us?

Sadly, people have become accustomed to this kind of behavior. So they leave it unchallenged even while knowing, deep down, that it isn’t right. They know that a “winner take all” mindset and the subversive tactics that make it possible are wrong. Yet they tolerate it by their silence. It’s time for the church to stand up and challenge this prevailing culture.

Trust in society, and in the church, is in short supply. So is discernment. The polarized atmosphere of many church meetings has led to a breakdown of trust and to people disengaging from the life and mission of the church. Therefore younger generations shy away from leadership. Older members bear emotional scars.

Let’s be clear. The prevailing meeting rules that are used in many churches and community groups actually foster disharmony and encourage negative outcomes. What is this adversarial style that is causing so much pain and harm? It is known as “Parliamentary Procedures” or simply: “Robert’s Rules of Order.” It was actually intended to help people complete an agenda in an orderly fashion. How’s it working for you?

How Robert’s Rules of Order work

In a parliamentary process of decision-making, primacy is given to succinct reason and logical argument, which validates a conclusion. Many times we hear it said with disdain in church meetings “Oh, I wish he would just get to the point!” It is as though emotion, story, reason, and experience have nothing to offer in the search for wisdom and meaning. How far this is from the truth! In fact, emotion, story, experience, and reason have moved to the very center of how people find and understand true insight.

Not only does Robert’s Rules create “winners” and “losers,” it also ignores spiritual ways of developing insight and making decisions as disciples of Jesus Christ. This process cares little about supporting the values for which the church says that it stands. For example being humble, gentle, and patient or bearing with each other in love.

The alternative

Fortunately, there is an alternative way of reaching a decision that is theologically, socially, culturally, and relationally more appropriate today. It has its roots in Scripture. Also it is engaging and easily understood.

Clues to this alternative approach come from multicultural communities. They make decisions through processes that are very different to a parliamentary process. Careful conversations take place before action is decided. Options are wisely considered.

Also the increased participation of women and young adults in the leadership of the church has led to a significant number of people wanting a more collaborative rather than combative or adversarial way of making decisions. They recognize that a divided community eventually falls.

The case for using a fresh approach for making decisions is getting urgent because:

  • 95 percent of Americans agree with the statement: “People on opposite sides of an issue demonize each other so severely that finding common ground seems impossible.”
  • 75 percent of Americans agree with the proposition that we should give moderate voices more emphasis and “stop letting the people on the extreme ends of the issues dominate the discussion on important issues.” (Research released at the Q Conference)

A consensus-building approach can assist a congregation or organization to discern the will of God for its life. It does so in ways that are inclusive and consistent with Christian values by:

  • creating a respectful environment where people are able to name what is important for them
  • assisting everyone to have a full understanding of the issues and the implications of their decisions
  • collaborating to generate better options
  • helping participants come to a place where they can accept the views of the majority even if they are not their first choice
  • allowing people to know that they have been heard and taken seriously.

In short, this new process provides a credible Christian witness in the world even when considering complex issues.

The way forward

We believe that church leaders want a new way of making decisions. A way that honors diversity, respects all participants, is collaborative, builds a sense of real community, and uses time wisely. However, what is lacking is a step-by-step guide and training that assists leaders to articulate their experience and vision.

Leaders need to know:

  • how to prepare for an alternative way of decision making
  • the meeting procedures and tools to can use to build consensus
  • how to make decisions they can implement

We step into that void with a process that has three distinct phases:

  1. Information Phase
    2. Deliberation/Consideration Phase
    3. Decision Phase.

Through various methods, including small groups, these phases create spaces where listening, creativity, respect, vulnerability, and collaboration are fostered and expressed. You can read more in The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together.

Robert’s Rules tend to be more condensed and focused on the decision phase. It gets confusing when used to generate fresh ideas.

Christians deserve a new way of making decisions in their congregation and throughout the church’s decision-making systems. They yearn for a way that honors diversity, respects all participants, is collaborative and strengthens community. Many churches around the world have changed their business procedures away from the parliamentary style because of the damage that it was doing to their life. They have developed processes that create a healthy culture that is consistent with Christian values.

Can we do anything less? Please comment on this post with stories, good and bad, from your church experience about how important decisions get made. Do you follow parliamentary rules?  Or have you switched to a different process when considering significant strategy, changes or opportunities?

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.