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!

 

 

 

Community based decision-making process – 3rd step: deliberation and decision

In any decision-making process deliberation and decision is where most people want to rush. This is the part of the process that most people think about when they talk about making decisions. It is the very heart of a decision-making process.

This is the 3rd post in a series of four posts that walk through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. Step 1 is preparation, step 2 is invitation and step 4 is implement the decision.

The material below is expanded upon in the book: “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” in pages 93 – 95 and 186. You can get your copy at Cokesbury or Amazon.

Before the deliberations begin

We are absolutely convinced that when you complete the first 2 steps properly (Preparation and Invitation), then this step is a real delight.

First a reminder. Because this process is community-based, gathering the community for this work is crucial. Therefore people should know the issue(s) in advance and receive all relevant materials before the meeting. They should come to the meeting with a sense of prayer and wonder at what God is about to do through them. Supported this step with deep prayer and reflection. Sadly, some people come to meetings loaded for bear. That is, they take sides in advance and are convinced that they need to argue their point. Winning is their motivation. However, nothing is further from the truth of what community based discernment is about!

Here is a basic outline of an agenda for the deliberation and decision-making part of a discernment process.

Gather the Community

Participants are reminded, affirmed and built up as a community in this part of the meeting. When done well people will:

  • be welcomed
  • share a time of worship or devotion
  • build community
  • set boundaries or guidelines to complete the work ahead
  • review and agree to the agenda with appropriate break times
  • receive an overview of the consensus process.

Information Phase

Most leaders tend to ignore or limit this part of the meeting. Many questions and confusion easily arise when this happens. The issue or topic to be discussed is presented and relevant supporting material distributed.

Often this material takes the form of a petition or proposal to considered. Time must be given to answering questions on the topic so everyone is clear what they are being asked to do, understand the matter before them and the implications of their decision.

An often overlooked important piece of information is what is important to the decision makers as they consider the issue. People decide things on what they think is important. If other people don’t know what matters to others then they will not know where each other are coming from. Worse still, important needs and concerns will not surface. This means that all the issues will not be addressed and the full range of possible outcomes will be cut off.

Deliberation Phase

It is very important that you provide enough time for this phase. This is where creative options surface and the shape of the decision starts to come into focus.

In Robert’s Rules of Order, this is often a time of making amendments and substitution which can be confusing. In a community-based consensus process, it is a time for respectful conversation and consultation with one another to share experiences, hopes, values, feelings, and theology on the proposal. By doing this you begin to see what is acceptable in the proposal and whether there are other ways to achieve goals.

There are many ways to help these sorts of discussions and to capture the developing consensus. One valuable technique to foster these conversations is to form smaller groups of 6-8 people to seek direction.

Determination / Decision Phase

This is the place in the meeting where the decision is made. Perhaps the decision is that it is not time to finalise the issue. So the matter will be referred to a group for further work. That group will then bring back the next phase of the discernment in a new proposal.

Often, a group decides they have had enough conversation and are ready to share alternate ideas gleaned from conversation and prayer in the Deliberation Phase.  If you have completed the previous phases with integrity, there may be a clear cut sense of direction. This is the point where leaders ask the group if they are ready to make a decision. A revised petition or proposal may be presented to the entire group from feedback in small group sessions, or through other strategies.  Remember the point is to draw from the wisdom of the community.

Ultimately it is time to make the decision. This can be done with a show of hands, ballots, or other means. Once the decision is made it should be documented so anyone not present at the meeting understands what has happened and what the next steps will be.

Conclusion

Close the meeting by thanking people for their participation and hard work. Where appropriate end the meeting with an acknowledgement of what the group has worked on and been through. This may be a time for a prayer or song.

I am deeply troubled when a group says that this work takes too much time. They prefer a simple yes or no vote. The answer is simple: take just enough time to discern the will of God on a matter with your brothers and sisters. Then people have ownership of the decision. You will know that you have spent time wisely when you hear people say that they fully understand the decision and are prepared to support it.

If you do not take adequate time for this step then you will waste time later revisiting the matter, or suffering from people’s confusion or lack of support. Groups have split over less!

What a wonderful feeling it is when a faith community knows that they have discerned the will of God on the matter and are prepared to embrace it together!

Post your response to this article so that we may hear your experience and insights about making decisions well.

 

 

 

Community based decision-making process – 2nd step: invitation

 

Who would throw a party and not send an invitation to guests? Sounds silly, right? Would you believe that many church leaders plan for an important decision and fail to get the right people to the table? Therefore in an effective decision-making process invitation is essential. So give careful thought to who should be present. It takes effort to think this through. However it is well worth it.

This post is part of a series of four that walk you through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. The first step is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision. The final step 4 is to implement the decision.

“The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 92, 93 and 185. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Decide who should be present

I know – it sounds obvious, but this step is often overlooked. Who should be on your invitation list? Some meetings have a limited group of people involved in the decision-making. Some decision-making bodies like congregations can be quite large. When holding important meetings make sure to hold them when as many people as possible can participate. The first group of people who need to be present are the people who need to make the decision – plan for maximum involvement.

Decision-makers need good information and good processes. Therefore the second group of people you need at a meeting are resource people. They may be subject experts who offer technical information or other data.

Some discussions are complex and need processes that can maximize participation, exploration of issues, and the drawing out of opinions. Not every Church Board or congregation has experts in meeting processes. So consider – do we need some help in developing the processes for our discussions?

Decision-makers are not the only persons affected by a decision. So it is important to have people who are affected by a decision, present at some stage in the decision-making process. Decisions-makers need to understand the impact of a decision. This is important information for decision-makers. Therefore think about who can help a group understand the impact that their decision will have. Then add them to the invitation list.

When possible, make a list of people who need to participate. This group will include those with authority to decide, people who can assist the knowledge base and processes of the group, and others who help to make the impact of the decision clear to the decision-makers.

Develop a clear communication plan – invitation

Participants need to know what is happening. Encourage people to understand why it is important that they attend. Also they need to know where the meeting will be held and other important details.

A note in the bulletin or minutes is not enough to get the word out. Try some of these ideas: send an open letter to the congregation or organization, make numerous announcements, present involvement as an invitation to something important, and introduce the process leaders to your group and have them explain what will happen.

Practice the Means of Grace

Invite people to be in a spirit of prayer for the meeting. Encourage them to pray and reflect on scripture during this time. Every member of the community of faith is a partner in the process. So respect them and affirm them by providing them with the opportunity to support the process through prayer and other acts of faithfulness.

Conclusion

When you have the right people at the table, the process of making decisions goes better. Take the time to invite people in as many ways as possible. Encourage their participation by providing good information, specific invitations and concrete recommendations for how they can be involved.

Do the ideas in this article match things that you have done? How did that work out?  Let us know your thoughts, experience and questions.

 

 

Community based decision-making process – 1st step: Preparation

Be prepared for anything

A sound decision-making process needs good preparation. So put in place the steps to be effective. This series of four posts walks you through the steps required for effective community based decision-making. The first step is preparation. Step 2 is invitation. Step 3 is deliberation and decision.The final step 4 is to implement the decision.

How you begin the work of making decisions affects how you complete it. Preparation is the crucial first step. “The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together” expands on this material in pages 86 – 92; and the Checklist on page 184. You can get your copy from Cokesbury or Amazon.

Preparation

In this step of the process focus on organisation. Therefore give attention to the following elements. Then you will cover all the important parts of this phase. Overlooking any of the following six steps can lead to significant negative consequences. Do not underestimate the value of good preparation!

  1. Name the decision to be made

    People need to know what is being asked of them. So put clearly into words the issue, and the form of the proposal. This clarifies what is being considered. Then people can pray and think wisely about the issue.

    Provide information about the possible decision (i.e. the proposal). Also include how and when the decision will be made. People in an organisation are more likely to accept a decision if there is transparency. People need to understand and trust the process or they will want to go over the issue again and again. So tell them the process!

    You have told people the issue / proposal being considered. They know when it will be considered ,and the process that will be used to come to a decision. In addition people need to know who is making the decision. In a local church context this may seem obvious. However when a decision is contentious it is well worth reminding the wider group who has been trusted to lead in this area of decision-making. This is a way of building confidence and trust. If there is an external facilitator involved it is important to share, widely, who they are and why they have been selected.

    The first stage of preparation is to let the decision makers, and those affected by the decision, know what is happening. Be as clear as you can.

  2.  Design the Process

    Consider forming a Process Planning Group to assist in this task. This group will take the leadership (perhaps the responsibility) for designing an effective process. Their role is to draw a road map for the journey towards discernment. On this map will be:

    + Communication strategies for the community affected by the decision.

    + Communication strategies for the decision makers.

    + A process for use within the meeting. It will cover information sharing, ways to explore an issue, strategizing about how to include all voices and how to generate creative options to resolve the matter, etc.

    + The timeline for making a decision – it doesn’t all have to be in one meeting!

  3. Fill key leadership roles

    Name the meeting chair (this is often a person already elected). If you decide to have small group discussion as a part of the process, design the groups and ensure they are inclusive. Recruit small group leaders and schedule as many training sessions as required to make them ready. When making decisions on matters that have a profound impact on your organisation we recommend that you utilize a trained facilitator to guide the process.

  4. Support the entire process with prayer and other spiritual practices

    Don’t forget to call a season of prayer, and if appropriate, fasting for the entire process. If there are Bible passages that people can helpfully study and meditate on, make these known. Immerse your community in the process. Provide knowledge about what is happening. It is nothing less than discerning the will of Christ for His church on this issue, in this place, at this time. This is a spiritual undertaking.

  5. Set Meeting Guidelines

    Be clear about who can participate in the process. Also be able to say what they need to know in order to participate. Now is the time to list respectful ways to work together (listen deeply, ask clarifying questions, be in a spirit of prayer, etc). If you don’t have a Behavioral Covenant now may be a good time to make one. Make these guidelines known well ahead of time.

  6. Provide a safe environment to meet

The location of the meeting matters. The space you choose should allow for people to clearly see and hear each other. We recommend setting the room up in a circular pattern to promote a sense of community. If necessary have a sound system. Think about hospitality and comfort – respect and care for the people who are making the decision.

If you do not already have one, consider establishing a behavioral covenant to guide respectful interactions with people. If you have one ensure that it is before people and they commit to following it.

Do not assume that people know to communicate well with one another. Encourage people to listen before speaking, to ask clarifying questions so they understand what is said, not to monopolize the conversation, etc.

Conclusion

If you take  time to prepare your decision-making process, you will lay the groundwork for a good experience and make better decisions. The goal of your preparation is to give people confidence in the process and therefore to be better able to accept the outcome.