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Bring People Together - Transform ME into WE…

Lot’s of talk these days about the importance of bringing people together, developing true understanding and taking meaningful action for progress or reform.

Damn little about how––exactly––to do it.

This process is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to write about it. You probably know all these steps. But have you been taking the time it takes to make it work?

If not, you’re not alone. When we’re busy or when things are going smoothly, we sometimes allow other priorities to take over. You’ve got to make this process a DISCIPLINE. You’ve got to embed it in your culture and carve it into your calendar––in stone!

Step One: Discovery

Two keep it simple, we’re going to build this example using two groups of people. Let’s assume they have different or even competing sets of needs, interests, goals and concerns. This could be two teams forced together by a merger, two departments that have been working at odds with one another, two groups with ethnic, racial or gender differences––even two political parties. (Yes, it would work for them too!)

When I facilitate a Discovery Session, the first step is an inventory. We usually start with a survey or a poll, but that’s really just to give us a basis to kick off a good discussion.

Everyone gets a say. We want to discover every person’s needs, interests, goals and concerns. I’m going to use a shortcut and call these a person’s “priorities.” What’s important to each person?

Some leaders worry that this is going to be a mess. That everyone is going to have different priorities. After more than 10 years of doing these workshops I can say with confidence––not so much. Sure, there will be differences. We’ll get to that. But there are also always priorities that everyone, or nearly everyone in the group shares.

Step Two: See what sticks

I ask the group to narrow the discussion to the few items that most people have in common. Again the art is to frame the priorities in broad terms at this point––not in specific action items or demands. That comes later.

If we use the merger example, each group is likely very devoted or at least accustomed to a specific culture, a specific process––a specific “way we do things.” That’s fine. Let’s focus on what both groups do and what both groups consider important. That requires some digging and some deep questions at times. As facilitators, we’ve got to be listening intently and we’ve got to stay on our toes.

There will be some priorities that differ. That’s fine. But some people may start feeling left out at this point. They may feel that their priorities are not going to be considered or that they’re just going to be pushed out by “the other side.”

We’ve got to be sure we respect those concerns. NO idea is thrown in the circular file. Even the most divergent interest or concern will be recorded and we’ll make it clear that these contributions will be reconsidered and revisited from time to time. Again from experience I know that some of these will become more important and some will appeal to “the other side” over time. Others will simply fade in priority. As the group comes together, they’ll simply find more interesting, more important things to work on.

Step Three: Prioritize

Here’s where we make some real decisions. The key is that prioritization cannot be arbitrary and it can rarely be pre-determined. We’re not here to sell ideas from the top down, we’re trying to see where the group can and will most effectively focus their energies and work together to achieve a common goal.

At this point we usually have three to five items that have emerged as having a strong common interest. Both groups consider them a high priority. That’s the beginning of the discussion, not the end.