In a recent group coaching session, a client mentioned that he thought his monthly meetings with his peers were dysfunctional. He felt they achieved "false closure" on key decisions - they'd discuss an issue, not make a clear decision, and move on, all acting as if they were clear. He felt one person took too much airtime on a regular basis, that the agendas weren't focused. On top of all this, people would come to him individually after these meetings to complain to him about them - and said they wanted their concerns kept confidential, and that they weren't willing to raise them in the group. They had formal time set aside for discussing how the meetings went and he couldn't remember the last time they had actually done this. No one raised this, either.
He decided he wanted to try to improve these meetings. One important question for his was whether or not to do so with the whole group present, or to try to do it "offline".
I offered his a few principles to help his make his decision; I offer them to you as well:
-People are accountable for their own information - It's counterproductive and unfair to privately express concerns to people involved and ask that they be kept in confidence. It's also counterproductive and unfair to act as if you don't have that information once you've received it.
-Raise the issue where others with relevant information are able to respond
- Each of us notices different things and have different reactions and information. Raising issues in the group that affect the group maximizes the likelihood that you'll build a common understanding of what's going on, so that the group can make a more informed choice on next steps.
-Jointly design the way forward - Others may not want to hear your concerns at all - or they may want to approach addressing them differently. Acknowledge publicly that you have concerns, say what you'd like to do about them, and ask for reactions, instead of just raising your concerns.
-Be transparent - say what you are thinking, and why, even if it feels risky to do so. (See my piece on risk in last month's edition for more on this).
Roger outlines similar principles in his chapter on this topic in his chapter "Raising Issues In or Out of the Group" in The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook.
This client thought these principles made sense. He practiced raising his concerns with the group - first by saying he had them, and that he thought it would be best for them to discuss them as a group. The group agreed, and they built an agreement about how they wanted to handle the discussion - and challenging issues in the future.
These principles have helped us and our clients make much more productive decisions about whether and how to raise concerns in a group setting. I hope they do the same for you.
What are your reactions to all this? Please email me with your thoughts.
? 2005 Matt Beane
Matt Beane is an associate with Roger Schwarz & Associates and co-authored a chapter of the recently published "Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook: Tips, Tools, and Tested Methods for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches," available on Amazon.com and via other quality booksellers.
This article was originally published in Fundamental Change, Roger Schwarz & Associates' free, monthly ezine. You can subscribe at: http://www.schwarzassociates.com/ezine_signup.html In exchange for subscribing, you'll receive a link to a free .pdf copy of "Holding Risky Conversations," a chapter from our recently-published fieldbook.
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