LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
The Art of Convening
One of the most important abilities leaders are going to need in the future is that of convening diverse, often disparate, potentially fractious voices to engage in open, honest dialogue about complex and varied topics. The ability to convene as an activity of leadership could intentionally cultivate in individuals, groups and organizations the following skills:
- Establishing the purpose of the meeting: Considerable thought should be given to why people need to be convened. Hoped for outcomes also need to be clearly articulated and consciously considered throughout the dialogue. Communication of the “real” agenda and helping people see if and how they fit into the bigger picture are necessary components.
- Setting Clear and Reasonable Goals: This is critical to successful convening and entails having a vision from which immediate, intermediate, and long-term goals can be derived.
- Creating and Maintaining “Safe Space”: This ensures that those engaged in the conversation will be invited into space that is intellectually open and substantive; spiritually, physically and psychologically safe; that not only words of inclusivity and respect are spoken but actually practiced. The establishment of a group covenant is one significant way to monitor the accomplishment of this. The use of Mutual Invitation is one way of ensuring that everyone gets an opportunity to speak.
- Developing Frameworks of Engagement: This offers specific approaches and ways to constructively engage people so that games of dominance and free-for-all’s are minimal or nonexistent. Formulating questions and activities that allow all participants to think, reflect, listen, and share will invite deeper engagement, meaningful conversation and a sense of ownership. These frameworks need to be flexible so that the unexpected and new can emerge. Roberts Rules of Order and Consensus Decision-Making are two entirely different ways to order a meeting. Both have their place and both have to be understood by all parties to work effectively.
- Determining the Next Steps: This provides the opportunity for the community to determine its fate and future response to the issues discussed. Helping groups assess what has been accomplished, what is remains to be done, and whether they want to recommit to the effort that lies ahead is vitally important. Each stage in the process is an opportunity to renegotiate individual involvement and group commitment.
Questions to ponder:
- What style of convening do you use?
- Think of someone who did a poor job of convening. What crucial convening skills did she not employ to best advantage?
- Have you been a part of a group that wrote a covenant? How was this beneficial to the group?
- Have you used mutual invitation in a group? What are some advantages to using this style of discussion? In what circumstances would this not work?
- How familiar are you with Roberts Rules of Order? With Consensus Decision-Making? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
Let me hear from you concerning any aspect of convening.
A covenant is a written agreement within a self-selected group of people regarding their shared values and behavior toward each other.
Because each small group is unique in its values and expectations, each small group’s covenant will be unique. Based on Bill Donahue’s book, Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, here are guidelines for developing a covenant.
- The covenant’s values need to be generated by the group, not imposed by the leader. Get everyone’s opinions and then give them time (maybe even as much as a month) to think about them before agreeing to them.
- Be sure that expectations are clear, not ambiguous or open to interpretation. A covenant should be in writing. Group covenants should always be in the form of “we” statements.
- Each person must affirm the covenant. Ask that everyone sign their names on the covenant to show their commitment.
- Covenants should be reaffirmed or reinterpreted on a periodic basis so that members are reminded and/or clarified about group expectations…and can reaffirm their commitment to one another.
Covenants should be created around logistics and values that support group goals and purposes. Logistics include how often the group will meet and where, attendance expectations and who will handle different needs. Values include confidentiality, authenticity, transparency, acceptance, and invitation.
Here is a sample covenant:
- We will be present in mind, body and spirit to conversations about religious and spiritual matters.
- We will create a safe space that respects the privacy of the group members, although we may share our perspectives and insights about topics outside the group.
- We will maintain confidentiality with respect to other’s personal lives.
- One person speaks at a time, or feels free to pass, while others listen respectively.
- We will commit to some form of service as part of our group work.
- We will keep an empty chair and will birth a new group when our group exceeds the maximum limit.
- We will commit to attending the group through May, making attendance a priority on our calendar.
- We will begin/end meetings on time.
- We will let the facilitator know if we cannot attend.
- If for any reason we need to withdraw from the group, we will attend a last meeting of the group to communicate this directly.
Developed by Eric Law (1993) mutual invitation is a technique designed to promote egalitarian group talk. The facilitator begins a discussion by sharing her views on the topic at hand. She then invites another member of the group to respond to what she has said, or to contribute whatever is on her mind regarding the topic. After that person has spoken she then chooses the next person to speak, and so on until all have had the chance to be involved. If someone does not want to offer a comment she can pass, but she then has the responsibility to choose who will speak next. No one is allowed to interrupt the chosen speaker. Once everyone has been called on, open discussion ensues and the ground rule doesn’t apply.
This process is a way of structuring the opportunity for all to speak, and also of giving the participants the power to choose the direction of participation.
If the process is used a second and third time, the facilitator does not start off by sharing her view. However, she does start out choosing who will be the first to speak.
E.H.F. Law The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1993 (pp. 79-88).
Roberts Rules of Order
Two websites worth viewing for information on Roberts Rules of Order are: www.robertsrules.org and www.robertsrules.com
Consensus is a decision-making process that fully utilizes the resources of a group. It is more difficult and time consuming to reach than a democratic vote or an autocratic decision. Most issues will involve trade-offs and the various decision alternatives will not satisfy everyone. Complete unanimity is not the goal - that is rarely possible. However, it is possible for each individual to have had the opportunity to express their opinion, be listened to, and accept a group decision based on its logic and feasibility considering all relevant factors. This requires the mutual trust and respect of each team member.
A consensus decision represents a reasonable decision that all members of the group can accept. It is not necessarily the optimal decision for each member. When all the group members feel this way, you have reached consensus as we have defined it. This means that a single person can block consensus if he or she feels that it is necessary.
Here are some guidelines for reaching consensus:
1. Make sure everyone is heard from and feels listened to. Avoid arguing for your own position. Present your position as clearly as possible. Listen to other team members reactions and comments to assess their understanding of your position. Consider their reactions and comments carefully before you press your own point of view further.
2. Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose when a discussion reaches a stalemate. Instead, look for the next most acceptable alternatives for all parties. Try to think creatively. Explore what possibilities exist if certain constraints were removed.
3. Do not change your mind simply to avoid conflict, to reach agreement, or maintain harmony. When agreement seems to come too quickly or easily, be suspicious. Explore the reasons and be sure that everyone accepts the solution for basically similar or complementary reasons. Yield only to positions that have objective or logically sound foundations or merits.
4. Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, averaging, coin toss or bargaining. When dissenting members finally agree, do not feel that they have to be rewarded or accommodated by having their own way on some later point.
Differences of opinion are natural and expected. Seek them out, value them, and try to involve everyone in the decision process. Disagreements can improve the group's decision. With a wider range of information and opinions, there is a greater chance of that the group will hit upon a more feasible or satisfactory solution.
See a related article in the March/April 2004 issue of Horizons Magazine for further information. Another online resource is http://www.pcusa.org/nnpcw/resources/consensus-model.htm