Thursday, March 21, 2013

Group Works: Commitment

This entry continues a long series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:
1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith 

In the Intention segment there are five cards. The second pattern in this segment is labeled Commitment. Here is the image and text from that card:


A group dedicated to its work persists through obstacles, distractions, and lulls. Remind yourselves of your larger purpose and what you really care about. As the group moves toward action, support effectiveness by getting clear on who will do what by when and how to ensure it really happens. 
For me, commitment mainly distills into: a) dedication to cooperative process; b) persistence in working toward goals; c) steadfastness with respect to relationship; and d) integrity when acting and making decisions consistent with values. 
The challenges to commitment manifest as awkwardness, isolation, impatience, weariness, self-absorption, and distraction. There may be times when it's tempting to cut corners, give in, give up, settle for less, or otherwise weaken one's resolve, but committed people don't do those things; committed people stay the course.
Finding the strength to sustain commitment (especially when one is tested) is often related to clarity of purpose and proximity to personal values (or identity). The closer to the bone, the firmer the resolve. 

In cooperative groups (in contrast to competitive ones) it matters as much how you do things as what you do. Thus, I rank commitment to process equal to commitment to objectives. In cooperative settings you need to listen to both drumbeats, not just give obeisance to the god of product. 
While there's no question that attention to implementation is appropriate—the who does what when and with what resources—that's not where the heavy lifting of commitment is done. For my money, commitment is mainly tested in the trenches of discussion and proposal generation. For more on these concepts, see my blog of Jan 30, 2010, Nurturing the Culture of Collaboration and Curiosity.

All of that said, it can be an interesting nuance distinguishing commitment from stubbornness. When does dedication to principles degrade into pigheadedness? When does the gold of loyalty debase into the lead of chauvinism? I believe that the litmus test is whether there's curiosity and a willingness to be wrong. The love-it-or-leave-it folks have essentially checked their minds at the door (a mule has commitment, but who gives a shit?); while those who are prepared to seriously entertain opposing viewpoints are the one's whose dedication is inspiring. They are the ones who thoughtfully sort the wheat of principle from the chaff of casuistry, and the bread baked from that grain is both uplifting and nourishing.
Wouldn't you like a thick slice of fresh-baked commitment right about now?

1 comment:

Rosemary Wyman said...

Where are the leaders who live, speak and breathe this stuff. Thank God for Laird, but since he won't run for office, methinks the boney finger of these words points to only one way out for all of us. Complete,grueling,from-the-inside-out, spirit revolution?