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!

 

 

 

My 5 Consensus New Year Resolutions

 

It is late January and many New Year resolutions will have fallen by the wayside. The good news in this post is that you get 5 consensus New Year resolutions. Change is possible. So if you don’t achieve one you still many more!!

There is an old saying “If you aim at nothing then you are sure to hit it!” If you don’t try for changing the culture of your church then you are sure to end up with the same culture as you arrive at 2019. There are some simple mindsets and actions that you can take NOW that will give your church a chance to move towards valuing consensus based discernment. So here are some suggested resolutions. I am sure you can add some more of your own.

Consensus 101 – bell the cat

Name the problems you see in meetings. Once named it is easier to see them every time.

  • When you see people shut out of contributing – insist that they are heard
  • If people get hurt by your meeting processes care for them and challenge the meeting planners to do better
  • When decisions are resisted or get revisited time and again ask why it happens
  • When there is confusion during debates ask what can be done to help people understand the issues and the motion  (hint – questions for clarification)
  • When people don’t behave like Christians should behave tell them that it isn’t good enough and our discipleship should also be shown in meetings

Talk to people about consensus discernment

You know stuff that a lot of people in your church have never heard about. Consensus based discernment is the future but it is not the present for many congregations.

People often put up with things because they don’t know that there are alternatives. Encourage people – especially the hurt, marginalised, spiritual, hopeful, despondent people – and yes leaders who long for a better way. Share the resources that you have. Respond to their questions. Challenge them to hope and imagination.

Continue to learn about consensus discernment

Read the posts from this site. If you haven’t done it yet buy our  book The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together. Read other books from secular  and religious authors that talk about consensus building and decision-making. Some examples are: Mark Gerzon The Reunited States of America and Ruth Haley Barton Pursuing God’s Will Together.

Buy the Making Church Decisions course. Five modules with four or five lessons in each module that are full of insights and practical usable tips plus many resources that are not in the book. The course will be available late February. Sign up for the posts or follow on FaceBook to be sure that you hear about it and get a chance to grab the heavily discounted launch special!

Organise seminars and workshops in your local church or district. Julia and I are very keen to meet you in person and to have the chance to explore in depth the ideas and resources that we have. What better way to get access to one or both of us to coach and mentor you around the specific situations that you face!

Start or join on line discussions. We would love more comments on our FaceBook posts (@makingchurchdecisions.com) or on these posts. We want to encourage a community of learning. Lead the discussion or join in when you can.

Build group cohesion and find common goals

People gathered together in groups can have a wide range of aims when they come together. Unless these aims are aligned in some way then building consensus is not possible. It is no accident that the effective examples of consensus based discernment or decision-making are seen in groups that have a shared goal.

Goals need to be aligned at a very high level – the detail is not as important as the highest shared value(s). Examples of high-level goals include making a commercial profit, maintaining peace and stability in a community, seeking to do the will of God, community action groups seeking change in their community. If the focus is too much on lower level objectives then the divergence between participants magnifies.

Identify and agree about the high level goals.  People will support and strive to achieve these. This is an essential prerequisite foundation for building consensus. These goals or objectives may be served by a wide variety of strategies. The individual ideas about the way to achieve the goal become less important than the end point. As a result people can change from their initial ideas, or can accommodate more than one approach. If people see alternatives as a better way to support the main / common goal then they will accept them.

Encourage and build diversity in your meetings

When a group is very homogeneous in character, and attitudes among group members are too similar, it works against consensus. In such cases it is very difficult to generate new ideas that lead to the best decisions.

The best way to reduce the risk of this “group think” is to get a whole lot of different people in the room. Businesses recognise the importance of cultural, gender, age and experience diversity on their Boards. Diverse Boards generate more ideas and make better decisions. The same goes for the church.

So start thinking about your local church council or board and whether it is diverse enough. If it isn’t diverse start encouraging a range of different people to become members.

Conclusion

The start of a new year is a great time to think about doing things differently! Here are 5 things that you can do now that will help you to develop an openness and culture where consensus based discernment can take root and flourish. Hopefully you can add some more.

We would love to hear from you about the goals you have set for yourself this year and how they go. You can use the comments option on this post or start a conversation on FaceBook @makingchurchdecision.com

Six things that work against consensus

There are a number of things that work against consensus being achieved. They need to be recognised and addressed.

Group Think

When being a member of a group creates pressure on members to narrow down the range of opinions Groupthink occurs. When a group is very homogeneous in character, and attitudes among group members are too similar, it works against consensus. In such cases it is very difficult to generate new ideas that lead to the best decisions. This risk is not limited to groups that seek to build consensus for their decisions. However when coming to consensus is highly prized in a group, there can be pressure to conform. Groupthink can be minimized by allowing individuals to first independently collect information before presenting their recommended course of action.

When there is no group

A collection of individuals who have no shared purpose or common interests cannot make a group decision. There must be something that binds  people together and there must also be a shared willingness to work on the project together.

A major challenge facing churches that want to move to consensus building in decision-making is a high level of conflict amongst their members. The level of brokenness in relationships, limited trust and major positional differences are significant challenges and work against consensus.

Nevertheless every effort should be made to find the common ground of some shared values or higher level shared goals.  Serious disagreements should not be used as an excuse to avoid trying to build consensus.

No agreed purpose for the meeting

If people think that a meeting is only a rubber stamp for the leadership’s preconceived ideas then you can’t use consensus processes. When a meeting is seen as a source ideas that will be decided upon later then genuine consensus will not be sought. In The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together  we make the point that it works against consensus if participants in a meeting don’t agree about its purpose.

In emergencies

As the old saying goes “there are no democrats in a foxhole.” Different kinds of leadership are required for different purposes. A crisis needs swift action and usually a decision about which issue is most important to address at that time. Authority based leadership is most suitable in this context.

When there is no decision to take

Sometimes this occurs when a decision is particularly trivial. You don’t need a sophisticated process to decide the color of the table cloths in the church hall.

On other occasions it will be because not everyone has to agree on a given course of action. A church meeting might gather to consider mission strategies at which many ideas are shared. As interested people gather around the ideas that they support, they don’t need everyone to agree to do their thing before it can happen.

It isn’t the right time

Sometimes a group will not have all the information that it needs so it cannot reach a good decision. In such situations a pause should be taken. This allows for more data or resources to be gathered to inform the next stage of the conversation.

On other occasions people may have a clear idea on what should be done, but  will know that now is not the time. Many a good idea fails because it is planted out of season. Being willing to consider “when” is as important as the “what”.

Conclusion

Clearly there are obstacles to coming to consensus – where that means a unanimous decision. For other examples see here. Please share a comment  about when consensus building has proved to be difficult and what you did about it.

Even if it is unlikely that you will reach a unanimous view on a given subject – do not stop using consensus building techniques. Continue to show respect for one another. Listen carefully to all the voices. Seek common ground and be prepared to change your mind. Even if you don’t get to full agreement there will be many areas where consensus can be built. By identifying the areas of agreement it is possible to clearly identify continuing disagreements and to generate strategies for addressing them.

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.