What You Need To Know Before You Join A Community Problem Solving Effort
Can you visualize this? You are settling in for the evening and put a movie into the DVD player. You decided to make some designer popcorn and have turned on the stove, added the oil and popcorn to the pan when the phone rings. You turn the heat down and inadvertently take the lid with you as you sprint into the adjoining room to answer the phone. It’s an important contact you have been waiting for all week. Little do you realize that turning down the heat did not stop the popcorn from reaching the popping point. The popcorn pops. You are holding the lid.
This illustrates what it is like to be on a disorganized community project team composed of members belonging to different organizations with no formal bond other than a common goal. Without pre-established ground rules for resolving conflict or identifying common values and boundaries, holding the “lid” is no consolation when differences begin to pop.
Volunteer community problem solving groups are Strategic Alliances formed to cooperate. The power structure is shared, and instead of a top-down communication process decisions require collaboration. To build a solid foundation, it is best to begin any collaborative process by assembling the members, creating a vision, agreeing on desired results, and building trust.
Trust building must begin early on. It is nurtured by building one-on-one relationships that rely on the integrity, honesty and fairness of the people involved. Therefore, disclosure of self-interests in relation to the common goal is extremely important. Without this, suspicions and perceptions of undue advantage can surface,jeopardizing the process.
Other important ground rules to consider include the following:
1. Defining your common practices:
Identifying common practices builds unified procedures resulting in shared ownership.
2. Disclosing your power base:
In all relationships, it is important to realize that power is always present and never equal. Disclosing the power that exists and the power that is sought from other members ensures that power is used wisely and ethically.
3. Disclosing values:
By identifying each member’s values, group operative values develop resulting in a foundation for making decisions and solving problems. Identifying up front those behaviors that support the majority value structure and those behaviors that would disrupt your process create the boundaries that allow your group to function.
4. Identifying loyalties:
Foundational loyalties affect the decision process. It is important to know how loyalties will affect decisions.
5. Establishing a grievance process:
Identify a process, put it in writing, and appoint the necessary leaders to facilitate misunderstandings and conflict. Make sure each member has a copy and is committed to the peacekeeping process.
Clear-cut ground rules as well as objectives build a favorable social and political climate where members witness cost-effective and efficient progress in exchange for their efforts. Make sure these groundrules are known before your effort starts to minimize conflict and confusion.