Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Group Works: Purpose

Today I'm going to start a long series in which I'll explore 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 simply an amplification of what each pattern means to me. I am not intending to suggest 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 suggested 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 keystone pattern in this segment is labeled Purpose, so that's where I'll begin. Following is the image and text from that card:

Purpose is the destination we choose from a sea of possibilities. Shared purpose calls us together and focuses us, evolving as understanding deepens. It gives impetus and energy to our work—when we're connected with genuine purpose, energy flows and things happen.
For me, the concept of purpose varies considerably by scope. I'll illuminate four, working from larger to smaller.
Purpose of the Group
For groups to function well, it helps if everyone is mindful of the reason the groups exists;  what it's trying to do in the world. This helps members shift perspective from what they'd like with respect to a given issue, to thinking about what's best for the group

While holding the group's purpose clearly doesn't tend to be a problem when groups are first founded, there can be drift over time and occasionally groups are well advised to pause to reflect on whether their vision and/or mission statement are still valid or in need of adjustment. 

When a group labors over how to respond to a given issue, it is often wise to refer to common values and purpose in order to build a solid foundation for a response.

Given the potency of purpose, it's important that groups do a solid job of inculcating in new members a sense of common values and mission.
Purpose of the Meeting 
In the sense of what you're hoping to get out of a particular meeting, purpose can be a synonym for "objectives"; what we want to get out of this time together. Lacking clarity about that can lead to considerable drift in how time is used.

For example, there is often tension between using plenaries to address issues and using plenaries to build relationships—which are different purposes. If half of the group is prioritizing the former and the other half the latter, it can lead to a train wreck when someone says something like, "I don't know, but there's something about this proposal that just doesn't sit well with me." The problem solvers will be ready to go on (until and unless the speaker can get less nebulous), while the relationship builders will want to hear more. Instant tension.
Purpose of a Format
There are many ways in which to approach topics, and many factors that go into selecting which format to employ. In selecting how the group may most productively engage on a topic, a skilled facilitator will be weighing such things as whether the group needs:
a) To move physically
b) To change pace
c) To work in small groups so that more people will get air time in a less daunting environment
d) To share in such a way that everyone hears what's being said.
e) To focus on feelings more than problem solving
Purpose of a Comment
While you might think that statements are always self-explanatory, it's not at all unusual for a comment to be confusing, with the group not understanding why a person said what they did. It might appear to be off topic, it may make no sense, it may have been too rambling to follow accurately. 
In any event, if you don't understand where a comment is coming from, it's that much harder to know where it's going—or how to work with it constructively. 
• • •
In sum, whenever purpose is unclear—at any scale—you need more information. 


Dave Pollard said...

Thanks Laird. Your comments add greatly to the understanding of what these cards mean. I wish there were room on each card to add them!

Tree Bressen said...

Laird, i am so delighted that you are exploring the Group Works cards!

I appreciate that your first commentary got right at the "fractal" or scalable nature of the pattern you were exploring, Purpose. Being relevant at multiple levels was one of the hallmarks we used when discerning what to include in a pattern language of group process. The full Hallmarks list is available by scrolling down at this link: http://groupworksdeck.org/what_we_mean_pattern.

While i appreciate your mentioning Sue & Dave & me as we were the core team for the project during much of its development, many others have also been involved. Our active circle of participants continues to grow, with some pretty wonderful & amazing folks contributing, and we are always excited to welcome new people to get involved in a variety of ways, such as those posted here: http://groupworksdeck.org/participation.