Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Threshold Committee

One of the more intriguing (and potentially delicate) dynamics that cooperative groups need to navigate is determining when the personal choices of members move from strictly being in the private realm to becoming the legitimate subject of a group conversation—not necessarily because anyone thinks the individual(s) needed to have secured group sanction before acting, but because the impact is demonstrably affecting the group and it's appropriate to have a conversation about the impact on the whole.

The trick is how to be authentic and compassionate without violating the boundaries of privacy. This calculus is made even more challenging when the individuals are skittish about sharing in the group, and the prospect of such an examination comes across as an inquisition rather than an inquiry.

Thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that some groups may benefit substantially from putting in place a subgroup whose sole job it would be to figure out whether and how to have such conversations. The committee's authorization might look like this:

Threshold Committee Mandate
o Comprised of three members carefully selected for the following qualities:
—balanced representation (to the extent possible everyone in the group should have at least one person on the committee that they can readily approach)
—discretion (able to hear sensitive things and not repeat them without express permission)
—compatibility with each other (willing to work together)
—high communication skills
—process savvy (understand what due process means and how to apply it with sensitivity and diligence on a case-by-case basis)
—moxie to face tough issues

o Be available to work with requests from anyone in the group about an issue involving a person's behavior such that the complainant feels it's having a deleterious effect on the group (as opposed to just them).

o Once contacted, the committee will conduct a discrete inquiry into the story, to ascertain what's happened, and people's reactions to that. In the end, they'll make a determination about whether the impact has reach the point where a group conversation is appropriate. The factors that the committee will weigh might include the following:
—how many people seem concerned about what's happened (or is happening) and want to know how it's affecting others?
—how great is the distress?
—what is the risk to the group (legal, cost in terms of group energy, cost in terms of resources, group harmony)?
—how bad is the gossip around this (how widely is this dynamic being discussed, what is the distortion level of the information, what damage is occurring to relationships and trust)?
—how mortifying is it to the protagonists that this be discussed in the group (you want conversations to be constructive, not traumatizing)?
—how does this fit in (or not) with the group's clarity about how much members want to be in each others lives?

o This committee will have the authority to call a group meeting for the purpose of seeing to it that the stories are told and that there be an opportunity for everyone to let others know what they want to be heard. This does not mean that anyone needs to do something in response to what is said—that may or may not happen.

o If the committee finds that a plenary is appropriate, they will labor with the key players about what format might be the most constructive for this sharing of information and responses, accommodating everyone as far as possible. However, in the end, the committee may call a plenary even over one or more key player's objections if they feel the need is sufficiently compelling.

o The committee will determine the most appropriate way to set up the opportunity for sharing. The committee cannot compel anyone to attend such a meeting, nor can it impose sanctions on anyone.

o The committee will have a budget for the purpose of bringing in outside help if the committee believes there isn't sufficient capacity or neutrality in the group to self-facilitate the sharing.

The inspiration for the Threshold Committee surfaced after I witnessed a group agonize over when and how to create a forum for clearing the air about tough stuff that was swirling around as fallout from private choices. When the group is paralyzed about whether to proceed with a collective conversation, it tends not to happen and the only outlets remaining are the uneven gleanings from water cooler gossip and what can be cobbled together through one-on-one airings.

Can't we do better than that?

No comments: