Sunday, January 3, 2016

Working in the We Hours

One of ways in which normal groups vary is in the preferences among members about when in the diurnal cycle to have meetings. Mostly people clump at either end of the spectrum, with some favoring meeting at first light (or perhaps after their first cup of coffee) and others preferring to burn the midnight oil (or at least meeting after dinner).

There is no right or wrong to this; there are just preferences. Night people tend to be only partially present if you meet earlier than 11 am, and morning people tend to be like chickens—not worth much after the sun goes down.

Perspicacious readers may ask: what about the afternoon? Well, that's nap time for many. To be sure, you can neutralize the tendency toward the soporific by a thoughtful choice of topics (something controversial perhaps) or a careful selection of formats (something interactive), but on the whole, it has been my observation that afternoons are rarely anyone's first choice for when to hold meetings. In general, people prefer to meet in the wee hours: either early or late.

This is worth discussing because groups typically develop the habit of holding plenaries at the same time of day. This simplifies planning, yet it almost certainly means that the timing will favor some members and disfavor those who are not hitting on all cylinders at that time of day. In short, regularity of meeting times translates into an unintentional bias in the playing field.

Maybe that can't be helped (for example, there may not be sufficient flexibility in members' schedules), but have you asked? Mixing it up can go a long way toward balancing input. Mind you it's not a panacea: you still need to be concerned with the reality that not everyone is equally comfortable speaking in front of a more than four people, and not everyone is equally quick to know their thoughts or be ready to articulate them. Nonetheless, mixing up meetings times will help.

Another thing that will help is getting everyone on board with doing the personal work needed to consistently assume a curious attitude when presented with different opinions than their own, especially when the stakes are high. Cooperative living is about trying to build and sustain cooperative culture, and that requires unlearning our deep conditioning in competitive culture—where we learn to fight for our opinions. This requires that members are motivated to make the adjustment to regularly thinking about what's best for the group ("we" thinking) and less about personal preferences ("I" thinking).)

This is what I meant by the title of this essay—that time of day doesn't matter nearly as much as timely attitude. When groups are first learning to make this transition it often makes a critical difference if there's skilled facilitation present, to help remind everyone of the way they meant to be with each other, but tend to forget in the heat of the moment.

To be clear, I am not advocating "group think" where everyone rushes to join the opinion of someone else and disagreement is viewed as immature ego management. In a healthy cooperative group, disagreement is welcome, because there is the opportunity to shed more light on the issue at hand; it adds different perspectives, which makes it all the more likely that the best solution will be found.

The gold in cooperative culture is not "I" thinking, nor is it eye-for-an-eye thinking, nor is it I'm-more-eloquent-than-thou thinking; nor is it us/them thinking—it's we're-all-in-this-together-and-we-need-soluions-that-don't-leave-anyone-behind thinking. We need to be meeting during the time of day where we're most centered (least distracted by everything on our personal To Do Lists) and least reactive, so that we can listen well and be creative. Those are the we hours.

1 comment:

vera said...

Nice. Still though, there is research that says, people are not the most creative in groups (as in brainstorming). But rather when they have a chance to (also) brainstorm privately. I would love to know your views on that, and on groupthink more specifically. I find that close communities, whether traditional or ICs, for all their virtues, promote groupthink via peer pressure. The ol' "I have to live with these people, so I better not be honest."