August 26, 2014

Better group norms

Using the Ten Rules for Respect, I have been able to see some intrachurch conflict slow down, or at least see some members come into a deeper place of conversation where the likelihood of conflict getting out of hand is sharply lessened. Without the overwhelming constraint and weight of constant conflict, we get freed up to more effectively pursue The Main Thing.

Last week I sat with a congregational calling committee, and they had been careful to list the following group norms for themselves. These norms were alluded to more than once during the evening, so I feel assured they are in the DNA of the group. The chair of the calling committee tells me that they all decided on the norms together, and that they always list them at the bottom of the agenda for every calling committee meeting.

These group norms were:

Balance of Voices
Listen with Open Hearts
Respect Confidentiality
All Present for ALL Discussions
Resist Sidebar Conversations
Tell the Truth Faster - With Love

I liked these norms most especially because each one seemed to have been designed to take the edge off of places where the process can go off the rails. Each desired group characteristic as described acknowledges not only that things can go wrong (and they always do, sooner or later), but specifically how things go wrong.

A balance of voices > domination by one personality or by rote

Full listening > crosstalk, getting in my say, not digesting others' ideas

Observing confidentiality > dealing with information leaks and mistrust among group members

Everyone present all the time > domination or passive-aggression by individuals' "priorities";
constantly having to catch people up

Resisting side chatter > constantly refocusing on the task at hand;
having multiple conversations rather than one conversation

Fast, loving truth > staving off the inevitable just because it's hard;
frittering over having hard conversations or making tough decisions
when we know we're going to have to make them anyway

The chief characteristic seems to be an acknowledgement that wasting the time and energy of the members of any group is the main reason why people leave groups or lose interest, and that excellent, mindful, consistent modeling by group leaders and other members keeps groups focused and on task.

Churches in search, and just administrative church bodies in general, would do well to consider how to adapt similar values into their working life.

It all seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? But if it's so obvious, why do so many group processes get bogged down or even stalled-out altogether?

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