Those who want to get on with the work of the team sometimes see the focus on balancing task with maintenance as a waste of time.  We are busy people, and we don’t have time to waste on all this process.  While some teams do get bogged down in process it is important that we reach agreement on some key issues.

While working with a team that continues to choose to engage dysfunctionally, I will sometimes mentally add up the cost of the resources around the table that are being wasted.  The number is often significant.

I had the opportunity to sit in a seminar lead by internationally renowned negotiator, Lawrence Susskind.  Something he said has stuck with me.  Any effective negotiation is successfully built on 70% of your overall time spent in preparation for the negotiation.

A collaborative initiative requires participants to negotiate issues and actions in pursuit of mutual purpose.   The conversations we are highlighting are in service of preparation for this work.  Let’s look at the last four conversations.

How are we Internally Organized to get the work done?  On effective teams, participation is high, investment in the outcome is high and information flow is dynamic and appropriate.  On less effective teams, participation is low or conflicted, energy to implement is low, and information flow is blocked.

Questions around the internal organization of the group have to do with the more pragmatic elements of the work.  For example, questions to address may include:

  • How will we organize to get the work accomplished within timelines?
  • How will we communicate as a team?
  • How will meeting agendas be set and who will “facilitate” the work of the group?
  • How are decisions made?
  • How do we document discussions and agreements reached?
  • How much of the work will be done by the entire group?  Subcommittees?

Agreeing on structures that most effectively support the work of the team is essential given the “cost” of the resources being allocated.

What Language do we need to clarify as we merge our diverse organizations and cultures?  We use language to make meaning of our experience individually and collectively.  Communities, organizations, and teams adopt language to support their shared orientation to, and engagement with, an issue.  While this language may have significant meaning within the group, it can often be misunderstood or found to be offensive to those on the outside.  Often these misunderstandings uncover significant values related to the challenge.

Complex collaborative initiatives typically bring together “culturally diverse” agencies, organizations, and communities to pursue mutual purpose around an issue in which they share a stake in the outcome.  Agreeing on the language to be shared by the team is an important step in building trust and creating a safe space in which to have challenging conversations.

What Values inform our work?  Are we committed to equity, inclusion, fiscal responsibility?  Do Trauma Informed principles inform our work?  Are we committed to being culturally and linguistically responsive to those we serve?  Are we committed to cultural humility? It is not sufficient to simply identify our shared values.  We must collectively operationalize them to our context if they going to inform and shape our work.

How are we Externally Connected to our stakeholders and other doing work related to our initiative?  Most teams and groups do not operate autonomously.  They represent stakeholder who will be impacted by the work and are often formally or informally connected other groups doing similar or related work. 

  • How will we communicate with our stakeholders?
  • How will we communicate and potentially collaborate with others doing similar and related work?
  • How do we seek and receive external feedback?

My own personal history with groups and teams has been mixed.  I have been on committees and teams where I counted the days until the task was completed.  I have also been on teams and participated in groups that, in addition to producing extraordinary results, transformed my life and shaped who I am.  The later was only possible through the on-going intentional balancing of task with maintenance.  What kind of experience do you choose?