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.
I ask for volunteers to form breakout groups for each item. The only parameters I impose are that the groups are as balanced as possible––equal representation from each side, and that they focus their discussion on their particular item.
The discussion centers on three areas:
#1 Identify the DISCIPLINES
This is the 30,000 foot level. Not much detail here. Just identify or reinforce the big ideas. For example a Discipline in our merger example may be simply to embed a culture of respect and compassion.
A Discipline is the cultivation and practice of meaningful and purposeful habits. Once we identify and prioritize those habits, we’ve got to figure out how to make it happen…
#2 Identify the first Action Steps––turn this Discipline into actionable steps.
Of course, many of these Action Steps can and should be elevated to Disciplines. The difference is that some Action Steps are one-offs. You might need to only do them once. The Discovery Session might be an example, though I’d recommend you enshrine a regular Discovery Session as a Discipline.
Anyway, Lao Tzu rightly said that “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Figure out that first step. Then…
#3 Analyze the resources available.
And I mean material, emotional and spiritual.
Do you have the money, tools and training (material) resources you need to get the job done?
Do you have the support and desire to move this interest forward? (Emotional) This includes the support from management and the desire to work together.
And are you engaged and invested in a shared purpose? (Spiritual) This purpose takes the shape of a goal, vision or mission that transcends any individual effort or contribution. This is the vision that’s bigger than any one of us working alone. If not, the Action Steps may focus on developing the needed resources. All the Action Steps become the foundation of a clear plan.
Of course you also want to identify strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and obstacles, your basic “SWOT” assessment items. But you don’t need to drill in to these at this session. In fact an Action Item might be to plan a SWOT assessment.
Having said that, I don’t hose down the discussion. Working through this process is part of the unifying and bonding experience. We want to give people time to simply work together.
What we’re doing here is identifying what the entire group can and will do together. That’s what we’re going to focus on to bring everyone together––
To transform ME into WE.
Now this is not a “top down” process. But you’d better make sure leaders at the top are working through the same process and leading by example in the way they work together, prioritize objectives and resolve differences.
And we can’t forget about the differences. As I said, we’re not throwing them away. We’re just deciding on what we can do together here and now. Another powerful Discipline is to revisit those items with less consensus and see what might move up in priority from time to time. That’s why regular Discovery Sessions can be a powerful Discipline.
The alternative is to organize from the top. Design an action plan with little or no input from other levels. Then create a plan for how to either force implementation and compliance or “sell” the plan to the rank and file.
Which do you think has the best chance of success?
If you chose the command and control option, I wish you luck. I’m not saying you can’t make it work. I am saying I won’t help you try to make it work.
If you want to go the Discovery route, get people involved, show them you care––show them you’re ready to listen…